Organising durian exports to China
Published on: Sunday, September 05, 2021
By: Datuk John Lo
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THE feedback since my article “Sabah Falling Behind in Durian Potential” 1 August 2021 has been very encouraging. The Ministry of Agriculture or the Department of Agriculture may have the total acreage and species of durians already and/or will be planted in the near future. So far as I can ascertain, there are already some major planters like Tan Sri Harris and son Datuk Razak have, between them, several hundred acres, Bornion Timber has already got a substantial acreage of first-class MSK [Mau Sang King] fruiting, a few tycoons in Keningau and Tawau have also gone into durians a big way.

I also understand that there are numerous small holders ranging from 5 to 100 acres in Keningau, Tenom, Papar and Tawau.

“Sabah Falling Behind in Durian Potential” can be overcome quite easily if Sabah can henceforth proceed with laser focus to organise a full-fledged durian industry, building on present achievements by private sector investors. 

Sabah Imports Huge Volume of Expensive Fruits/Vegs/Beef/Chicken from, Australia, China India, USA, NZ.

What irony is this? Sabah’s average level of income can ill afford to import these items, most of which are high value. And we have plenty of land!  Sabah imports from China, fresh mandarin oranges, lychee, all sorts of vegs and preserved stuff, from Australia, prominently premium beef, the most expensive of which, costing more than RM300 a kilo, from USA, chickens. 

All these tells us several things about the way we manage our economy

[a] We don’t bother where or how little we earn our income and spend big money on imports, how and where we can save. 

[b] We have paid scant attention and efforts on how to generate/enlarge our earnings. 

[c] These imports cater for the few well off Sabahans but our farmers are still the poorest. 

[d] We don’t bother to produce some of these imports ourselves.

Sabah has vast tracks [millions of acres] of fallow fertile land but can’t export any food. 

For years, Sabah has no new sources of income.

Sabah does not own, control or have any final say in all our main exports/income from oil/gas, oil palm, timber, tourism.

Neither Sabah has ever been concerned or paid attention to improving our value chain in anything. We have just accepted the status quo. 

It is this inapt, no worry attitude that has kept Sabah poor, will get us poorer in future. Sabah must wake up to this reality and get ourselves organised.

[Note: Sawit Kinabalu has started cattle rearing programme].

Why Durian [especially Mau Sang King]?

[a] MSK is already a well-established brand in China, having overwhelmed all Thai durians in popularity. HK and Taiwan are other potential markets. 

[b] MSK has a faithful following in China to the extent that some restaurants are offering menu items like steam fish durians. “Durian-flavoured foods include pizza, butter, salad dressing and milk; KFC has even added “durian exploding chicken nuggets” to its menu”. The Chinese have progressed further than Malaysians in using durian in food innovation. 

[c] Though W Malaysia is very much ahead, Sarawak is only slightly but Sabah is closest to China with established airlink pre-COVID. I am confident this can be revived quite easily. 

[d] Private sector investors have already invested in durian cultivation quite substantially. A solid base for a durian export industry is already in existence. The government does not have to start it from ground zero. 

[e] MSK is high value and small holders can participate as fruiting can start in relatively short i.e., 4 years. 

[f] Sabah can make use of our vast fallow land.

Durian has graduated From Small Holder to Plantation.

Since Malaysian durians have penetrated into the Chinese market, there is considerable interest to cultivate it on a plantation scale in W Malaysia, cos [a] The return is extremely attractive [50%] compared to oil palm [20%]. [b] Plantation size durian farming can compete much more effectively against Thailand which is producing 10 times more in volume. 

Size will enable the industry to benefit from economy of scale. Hence, Sabah’s vast availability of land at reasonable prices can be a huge competitive edge. 


Much Ground Already Done by Private Sector to Kick Start Durian Industry.

No risk, no gain. No effort, no income. No investment, no return. Much uncertainties in attracting investment and cultivation of durians have already been overcome in Malaysia. For Sabah, there is minimal risk in market as the Chinese market can readily absorb more imports. All that is required from the government are leadership, positive policies, getting down to organise it and perhaps a little fundings for small holders. The small holders can piggy ride as contract farmers on the major investors who can provide them with practical extension services. 

When the government has formulated its durian game plan, I am certain the current momentum of durian planting will be given a big boost. Needed are Political and Private Sector leadership, organisation, Little Fundings for Small Holders.

I am certain Dr Jeffry can provide the political leadership to kick start the durian industry by [a] Getting his ministry and Director of Agriculture to get the ball rolling. If I may suggest, do a census to update the durian acreage and expected time of sufficient fruiting volume for export. [b] Assembling the existing private sector investors like Tan Sri Harris, Datuk Razak, Bornion Timber and others and seeking their suggestions to establish the durian industry. [c] Get the big boys to drive the industry from cultivation to sales and marketing development. Some of them have excellent Chinese connection. [d] Drawing up plans on how the big boys can co-operate with Dr Jeffry to assist and encourage small holders to plant more and the right specie. The objective is to use the fallow land and upgrade their income with this high value crop. All these steps and others require organisational inputs, little funding. Dr Jeffry’s political leadership will be very important.

Conducive Policy for Durian Plantations.

What policies are conducive? Dr Jeffry’s ministry can play a major role in the formulation of these policies. Here are some suggestions—-[a] Expedite approval for development plan for durian plantations. [b] Zone areas to be designated for durian planting. The private sector players like Tan Sri Harris in Tawau [especially Balung], Datuk Razak Membakut/Beaufort, Bornion Timber Keningau/Sook can provide useful advice. Small holders can also provide inputs from their perspectives. 

[c] Provide incentives for private sector by giving preference to the bigger durian planters to invest in the processing of durians for export. 

[d] Like in all successful industry, there must be R&D for durians. This is best co-ordinated between government and private sector. 

[e] Must establish the “from farm to table” policy. 

[f] Last but most important, the government should take on the responsibility to secure APs for the industry from the federal government, not to be given to some parasitic parties to collect free income. This will surely kill the industry before it is born.

Initiate Establishment of G-to-G Relationship for Durian Export to China. China is no longer a poor country. It is the 2nd superpower. The Chinese government is focusing more than ever on protecting the health of its citizens. They have stringent requirements for food imports. 

W Malaysian exporters have gone through some painful experiences. Sabah can learn to avoid them. No need to reinvent the wheel. The most effective way is for the government to work with the private sector to look into the Chinese health and other compliances now.

Growing Durians for Export Can Be Best for Sabahans First Policy.

A sensible and well managed programme to build up a durian industry is like using a stone to kill 2 birds—-[a] The crop is suitable for small holders, a bit difficult, but not impossible, to look after. A few acres of durians [good specie] can bring in decent income for a family. It is a lot more effective and economically beneficial for the farmers to gain some form of financial independence. [b] No need to give free money and the farmers will be grateful to the government. [c] The government will find it much easier to partner with private sector to establish the durian industry and other industries , rather than trying to drive by itself. [d] The government will be happy to have a financially independent group of small holders which should be one of the objectives of the Sabahans First Policy. [d] From a successful durian industry, Sabah can duplicate same to other crops like avocado which Hajiji is encouraging.


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