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Monday, October 26, 2020

LUCRATIVE PEPPER FARMING

THERE ARE REPORT ON LURACATIVE Pepper (Piper nigrum) growing at media report in Kuching, Sarawak. The transformation of the pepper industry has seen many smallholders in Sarawak expanding their farms and boosting their family incomes. The catalyst for them to cultivate these plants is undoubtedly the strong domestic and global white and black pepper prices, which have soared to historical highs since the upswing in 2009. New farms, including commercial estates, have sprouted up not only in Sarawak but also Peninsular Malaysia states such as Johor, as investors are lured into the commercial ventures in anticipation of the lucrative returns from this golden crop. More replanting activities are going on and some farmers have shifted to pepper planting from cocoa while others were reported to have opted out of tapping rubber because of the collapse of the rubber price. Sarawak’s two large pepper estates in central Sarawak, which have 22,000 vines in total currently and are expected to double their holdings by December 2016. In recent years, landowners and investors in Kedah, Perak and Malacca have ventured into pepper planting. Sarawak and Sabah is a traditional pepper producer, albeit in small volume. Blog "Anim Agriculture Technology" share a media report from Kuching, Sarawak about the lucrative pepper farming in the states.

Sarawak remains Malaysia’s key pepper producing state, contributing more than 95% of the country’s output. There are currently between 18,000 and 20,000 pepper farm families in Sarawak, with a total of 68,000 to 70,000 people involved in pepper cultivation, according to Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB) figures. Pepper farm land covers a total of 16,000ha. Currently more than 1,000 smallholders are now planting more than 2,000 pepper vines per hectare. There are some who have increased their holdings to 5,000 vines each a report released by Datuk Grunsin Ayom as ex-MPB Director General  at Kuching.  There are family with 1,000 matured vines could earn a net income of RM100,000 per harvest of black pepper at current price (gross income of RM140,000). The same family could earn more if it produces the higher-priced white pepper.  Kuching Grade 1 black pepper currently trades around RM48,500 per tonne while black pepper RM28,000 per tonne, off from their historical peaks of RM50,000 and RM30,000 per tonne respectively months ago. In 2009 the white and black pepper fetched around RM12,000 and RM6,500 per tonne respectively.  Unlike oil palm plantations which rely heavily on foreign workers, the pepper industry employs few migrants. He who joined the Malaysian Pepper Marketing Board (MPMB) as a market promotion officer in 1979 and had witnessed the transformation of the pepper industry in his 37 years of serving with the agency. He graduated as an agriculture economist at University of Reading, UK at the age of 22. On his return to Sarawak, he was a temporary teacher for a year before joining MPMB. He diligently worked his way up the ladder and had served in different positions, including as MPMB Sarikei branch manager. He has the distinction of being the first Sarawakian appointed as MPMB general manager.

However following the dissolution of MPMB in 2006 to pave the way for the birth of MPB, Grunsin was made its first director-general, the top post he served until retirement. In a question of what had been the most significant changes to the Malaysian pepper industry over the past decades?. He replied that the success of Malaysia in capturing a sizeable international market via direct sales of the spice to dozens of consuming countries instead of going through Singapore as one example. Back in the 1980s, more than 80% of the Malaysian pepper was exported overseas via Singapore. The situation reversed in mid-1990 via licensing conditions and promotional efforts when over 80% of our pepper was shipped direct to the terminal markets (now over 30 countries. In the past five years, Malaysia earned about RM1.7bil in foreign exchange in the export of pepper berries, crushed pepper or pepper powder and sterilised pepper. Years of promotional and marketing activities had significantly boosted domestic pepper consumption, which jumped to about 9,000 tonnes a year now from merely 500 tonnes. He attributed the surge to the growing usage of pepper as an ingredient in food processing and manufacturing as well as the government’s efforts to make Malaysia a halal hub. He is the one who established PMB regional offices in Sarawak, Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia. PMB, which saw its total staff strength doubled to some 400, had also set up a sterilisation plant in Sibu while extending its warehouse facilities to make it possible to obtain hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) certification. (HACCP is a systematic prevention approach to food safety from biological, chemical and physical hazards in production processes that could cause the finished products to be unsafe.)

Nowadays if pepper prices are maintained at current levels, each farm household can achieve an income of at least RM4,000 per month by 2020. His optimistic that the strong prices could be sustained as global demand for pepper had outpaced supply for years now, and this trend was likely to continue.  Describing the medium term outlook for the pepper market as still “very bullish”, he said based on the International Pepper Community (IPC) 2016 forecast, global consumption for the year is about 463,000 tonnes against production of 414,000 tonnes, resulting in a shortfall of 49,000 tonnes. Furthermore, only 312,000 tonnes by the producing countries are expected to be made available for export. In 2015, global consumption was estimated at 439,282 tonnes against production of 407,158 tonnes. As Malaysia was the world’s fifth producer among IPC members, recorded an output of some 28,000 tonnes last year against Vietnam (world’s No 1 producer and exporter, estimated at 130,000 tonnes). Other top producers are Indonesia (71,500 tonnes), Indonesia (65,000 tonnes) and Brazil (41,500 tonnes). Among non-IPC producers, China’s estimated output last year was 29,000 tonnes and newcomer Cambodia had 11,000 tonnes. China’s production was unable to meet its domestic consumption and it has been importing mainly from Vietnam to make up the local demand. The growth of the industry had put pressure on the supply of fresh pepper cuttings (planting materials) and support poles for pepper vines. MPB has provisions to supply free pepper cuttings to some 450 farmers, including recipients of 1Azam (poverty eradication programme).

To beef up pepper research and potential development works, MPB signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Swinburne University Technology Sarawak on two research projects last month. Project One is on “De novo assembly of the black pepper transcriptome and molecular characterisation of pepper defence genes” and Project Two on “Transcriptomic analyses and molecular characterisation of flower and fruit development in black pepper”. Both projects, which are expected to take three years, aimed for varietal improvement through the use of biotechnology in order to increase yields. Under the current 11th Malaysia Plan, he said a proposed national pepper development and extension centre would be built in Semenggok, Kuching Division. The proposed centre will house research laboratories, administrative buildings and an agriculture extension unit. A proposed field research station in Semenggok is currently in the works. Many would like to see more Bumiputras go into pepper cultivation and more youths involved in pepper planting and pepper value-added activities. MPB also would like to see some farmers move up the value chain and get into the retail packaging business. This would, however, require technological know-how, quality control and marketing expertise. The are hopes that the new leadership in MPB would not only continue with its good work but also inject new ideas to spur the continued growth of the pepper industry. Thanks.
By,
M Anim,
Kuching, Sarawak,
Malaysia.
(August 2020).

Friday, October 23, 2020

HAINANESE DURIAN TREE BEAR FRUITS

There are reports from China about 'Hainanese durian trees bear fruit for second consecutive years' in a China News. It happen after successfully setting fruit last year the test-grown durian trees in Hainan province bore fruit again this year and bringing Hainanese durian production one step closer to reality. In the Huasheng Hongmaodan Growing Area (华盛红毛丹种植基地), situated in Baoting Li and Miao Autonomous County in which every mature tree bloomed and bore fruit with the most prolific tree bearing over 20 fruits. Moreover the trees that bore no fruit last year bore three to five this year.  The area started with over 40 durian trees planted in 2015 for scenic purposes. However, the trees attracted widespread attention last year when they began to bloom and bear fruit. This year, researchers at the Hainan Academy of Agricultural Science implemented a program in the area to assess the viability of growing durians in the province. According to the experts working at the academy, it was previously thought that Hainan’s durians were of the Monthong or Puangmanee varieties; however, it was later found that the durians produced appear slightly different to these cultivars and more similar to Thailand’s Kanyao variety. As expected, total production was up this year, and both the flavor and texture of the fruits were reported to be good. In the blog "Anim Agriculture Technology' I rewrite a report from China regarding the report on success story of Hainanese Durian Planting programme for all readers.

The successful production of fruit for two consecutive years has given local growers and specialists greater optimism about growing durians in Hainan. Some growers and agricultural enterprises could not wait for the results of the viability assessment and have started growing their own batches of durians. Researchers at the Hainan Academy of Agricultural Science have estimated that the growing area for durians in the province currently stands at over 10,000 mu (1,640 acres), distributed across areas such as Baoting, Sanya, Ledong and Lingshui, and this is projected to exceed 30,000 mu (4,942 acres) in the next two years. Durians have been an extremely popular item in China for a long time, with annual sales volumes exceeding 500,000 tons. Hainan is also China’s only tropical island, with climatic conditions similar to those of the major durian-growing countries of Thailand and Malaysia,  making it an island with tremendous potential. Whether durian cultivation on the island will be completely successful remains to be seen, yet the planting industry for the fruit has already begun to gain traction. Market prices for durian seedlings are high, with Thai Monthong seedlings selling for roughly 200 Chinese yuan ($29) each and Malaysian Musang King varieties selling for over 260 yuan ($38) each. The price of larger seedlings even soared to over 800 yuan ($117) each last year. The Huasheng Hongmaodan Growing Area is now growing over 10,000 durian saplings. Nonetheless, some key issues have yet to be overcome. For starters, further research is still required to determine whether durians are suitable for growing in Hainan. From a technical standpoint, durian trees also take a long time to grow, typically requiring four to eight years before beginning to bear fruit. Such a long-term investment of time and effort without guaranteed economic benefit presents a substantial risk to growers. Durian trees are also relatively tall and take up a large amount of space, making crop management difficult. This is all in contrast to fruits such as passion fruit, pineapple and pawpaw, which can bring economic benefits much quicker. Hainan is also prone to being hit by typhoons, which could potentially decimate entire crops of durian. Thanks.
By,
M Anim,
Putrajaya,
Malaysia.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

ISSUE ON IMPORTATION OF RED CHILI

ISSUE ON RED CHILI imported from various country to Malaysia is a going on according to the market demands. The government won’t allow any more red chillies to be imported from Vietnam until the end of this year.  This was because samples of red chillies from Vietnam and few other countries have been found to contain maximum residue limits (MRL) that exceeded the permitted levels. The ministry has sent a notification to the Vietnamese authorities to take the appropriate action and report the preventive measures that are taken in which would allow the ban on imports to be lifted. The ministry also set the conditions for sanitation and phytosanitation for the import of fresh chillies from Vietnam such as requiring certification for good agricultural practices and encouraging the planting and production of local chillies which are free of pesticides and of good quality to meet domestic demand. Issue on what the government was doing to tackle the issue of contaminated imported chillies sold in local markets that did not comply with the Food Act 1983 and the Food Regulations 1985 due to pesticide residues last year. Currently through the Malaysian Inspection and Quarantine Service Department (MAQIS) it was constantly monitoring the imports of agricultural products, especially from Vietnam. There are a viral video clip which showed pesticides being added to durians to make them look fresh, Sim said it was an old video and the incident did not take place in Malaysia. Source: Bernama
Thank you.

By,
M Anim,
Senior Agronomist,
Malaysia.
(Febuary 2020).

Friday, October 16, 2020

HOW TO BOOST MALAYSIAN FOOD SECURITY

THE Covid-19 PANDEMIC
claimed has disrupted the global economy and people's livelihoods. 
It is high time Malaysia strengthened the country’s food policy to ensure resilient and sustainable food security in the long run against any pandemic. It has accelerated the digital transformation of many nations, with citizens having to learn and work from home, and businesses going online. The pandemic has exposed sectors that lack preparedness in the regional, national and global supply chains. Some sectors that seem distinct actually operate dependently. In the news, we saw farmers dumping hard-grown produce and ploughing crops back into the fields, while the department stores were empty. Robust and diverse food supply is an essential part of the health and nutrition response to infectious diseases. It is high time we strengthened the country's food policy to ensure resilient and sustainable food security in the long run against any pandemic. Four clusters under three ministries and one agency have been established by the cabinet committee on the National Food Security Policy, which was set up in May 2020 and chaired by the prime minister. Blog "Anim Agriculture Technology'' re write a report by NST regarding a question of how to boost our food security related to covid-19 pandemic issue in this country.

The holistic nature of this effort is reflected by the four clusters: Availability, Accessibility, Food Safety and Nutrition, and Stability and Sustainability. In the past, policies and strategies on food were developed in silos, with little integration between communities working on agriculture, food, nutrition, health, environment, water, climate, employment, transport and trade. Together, they will address various aspects of the food supply chain. These include manpower, technological applications, financial resources, investment, infrastructure and land use. Hopefully, our country's agrosector will grow to a greater level to strengthen food supply and self-sufficiency through increased domestic production, modern technology expansion, and reduced dependence on food imports. Innovations are needed all the way from the farm to fork. These involve novel farming systems, bioenergy and biomaterials, innovative food, agri-biotechnology, agricultural technology (agtech) infrastructure, farm management system, sensors, and Internet-of-Things (IoT), as well as in-store retail and restaurant technology.  Agtech infrastructure for largescale plant genotyping could also be redeployed for the community screening of patients in case of future pandemics. We must realise that food is no longer just food, but part of a complex supply chain involving farmers, delivery and e-commerce with many stakeholders.

Understanding the connections of this supply chain is important for post-Covid-19 recovery and resilience to prevent a breakdown in case of future pandemics.  Systems' thinking in an approach to understand the dynamic interactions between interdependent domains in a system that will help. This integrative systems' view will prevent policies that provide cheaper food in certain categories but lead to high rates of diet-related diseases or market innovations and production systems that emphasise efficiency but compromise biodiversity and exacerbate climate change. Hence, the government needs to bring together siloed communities to discuss how food should be produced, processed, distributed, marketed, regulated, cooked and eaten. For such a holistic transformation of food systems, national policymakers should continually gather ideas from all stakeholders, including farmers, producers, agricultural companies, social and environmental representatives, researchers, nutritionists and businesses.  Apart from a national framework for change, local and regional stakeholders must be empowered to shape the food systems to reflect local values, resources and priorities. Emerging technologies will leapfrog food supply systems with digital agronomy. The whole unorganised food supply chains should be digitalised for easy monitoring and tracing. Transparency in the food delivery chain will ensure the quality and safety of farm products through verified suppliers with accessible product data. Furthermore, farming is shifting towards more informed decisions based on data analytics collected by sensors and IoT. This intelligent infrastructure for smart agriculture is in line with the fourth industrial revolution. A cloud platform for agricultural companies to optimise the supply chain will be important to boost yields, quality and productivity. Finally, artificial intelligence can help to track and analyse species' interactions in various farm ecosystems to show the linkages between consumers and the environment.  As the host country of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting this year, Malaysia is in an ideal position to lead further discussions on regional food security. Thanks...
By,
M Anim,
Senior Agronomist,
Malacca City,
Malaysia.
August 2020.

Friday, October 9, 2020

CLIMATE CHANGE AND FOOD SECURITY

CLIMATE CHANGE
threaten our food security in the future. It seems that farmers in the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia worry more about dry spells or droughts that affect their rice yield than the Covid-19 pandemic. They are worried about the rice in fields that generate adequate income to sustain their life. This was articulated by some writers in the mainstream media last week. The concern by the farming communities is real, given the serious shortage of water to sustain rice growth and production in the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (Mada) area of Kedah-Perlis plains, the main granary of the country. We are talking about the country's food security, which is being threatened to the core by the recent drought in the region. As a senior soil scientist working to help enhance rice production to sustain food security, I am worried about the situation. No matter what we do, if there is insufficient irrigation water, the agro-technologies we have developed are of little use, unless there is a rice variety available in the country that can withstand without much water during the vegetative stage. What has gone wrong with the climate in Peninsular Malaysia of late?. Blog "Anim Agriculture Technology" re write a NST report on this issue. 

To put it in proper perspective, I made a visit to the area in mid-March 2020. The visit was to start a research project with farmers in Pendang, Kedah, who wanted to participate in the project. Sad to say that water was lacking in some areas that rice plants in the fields were left unattended.  The rice plants turned brown due to insufficient water to support their growth. The plants could no longer grow or survive, let alone produce rice that the farmers were looking for. It was a sad end to farmers' dream of having a good harvest. Based on the geological record, Kedah-Perlis plains were once inundated by sea water when the sea rose to its highest level some 4,300 years ago. During that period of the geological history, mineral pyrite (FeS2) was formed and remained in the sediments where the Mada area is. That geological episode leaves a fingerprint that affects soil fertility. During dry spells, the water table level drops and exposes the pyrite, which is subsequently oxidised, releasing acidity and toxic iron. The phenomenon affects rice production negatively.  This seems to be the case in certain rice fields in Pendang that I visited. The problem of high acidity and iron toxicity has to be rectified via agronomic means. The objective of my visit to Mada areas was to look for the best ways to do it. Alas, the project was put on hold until the Covid-19 pandemic is done and over with. The rice self-sufficiency level (SSL) in Malaysia stands at 71 per cent. With the improved infra-structure put in place, the SSL is expected to be increased to 80 per cent by 2022. The drought situation in Mada areas right now is made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. With the problems facing the farmers, I hope Malaysia can still sustain the SSL at 71 per cent. The powers-that-be should have already started working to alleviate the problem facing the rice farmers. Recently, the government invited researchers nationwide to submit research proposals for Trans-disciplinary Research Grant and Long-term Research Grant Schemes. Among the 14 areas of research offered for full funding is "Impacts of 1.5-2.0°C Global Warming on Malaysia". This shows how important is the impact of global warming on the economic wellbeing of Malaysians. The phenomenon of water shortage for rice production is unprecedented in the history of Malaysia. Water in dams at the upper reaches of rivers is almost dry due to the lack of rainfall. It has much to do with the change in weather patterns, the so-called global warming. Global warming is of great concern among those in the agriculture fraternity across the globe. It is accelerated by the increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere. We have more than 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, almost double in amount compared with that before the industrial revolution. The worldwide increase in the Earth's surface temperature has already reached the alarming level of 1.5°C increase in the Earth's surface temperature to 2°C. Thanks...
By,
M Anim,
Senior Agronomist,
Malacca City,
Malaysia.
(October 2020).

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

CHINA FRUIT IMPORT AND EXPORT - HALF YEAR 2020

Recently released data from the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-Products reveal that in the first six months of 2020 China imported approximately 3.64 million tons of fruit with a total value of $6.33 billion, corresponding to an 8% decrease in volume and a 14% increase in value relative to the same period of last year. Meanwhile, China’s fruit exports over the same period totaled a volume of 1.35 million tons and a value of $1.98 billion, representing year-on-year (YOY) increases of 24% and 25%, respectively. For the imports, the top ten fruit categories by import value between January and June were fresh durians ($1.5 billion, +68% YOY), fresh cherries ($1.23 billion, +34% YOY), fresh grapes ($610 million, −2% YOY), bananas ($520 million, −15% YOY), mangosteens ($450 million, −12% YOY), fresh dragon fruit ($360 million, +85% YOY), fresh longans ($200 million, −6% YOY), fresh kiwifruit ($180 million, +0% YOY), oranges ($150 million, −27% YOY) and plums ($140 million, −24%). These ten categories accounted for 84% of the total import value.  Ranked in descending order of value, the top ten exporters of fruit to China in the first half of 2020 were Thailand, Chile, Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Ecuador, Indonesia and Egypt. This blog "Anim Agriculture Technology' rewrite the ststiztic releases by China on the fruit impport and export for the first half of the year 2020.

It was 
Fresh durians (Durio zibethinus) in the top list between January and June, China imported 383,000 tons of fresh durians, corresponding to a 10% YOY increase. The unit price of imported fresh durians during this period stood at $3.98, representing a 59% YOY increase. China’s durian supply is almost entirely dependent on imports. In 2019, durians replaced cherries as the top fruit category imported by China in terms of value. For the fresh cherries in the first half of 2020, China imported 169,000 tons of fresh cherries, corresponding to a 27% YOY increase. The vast majority of these cherries (165,000 tons, +28% YOY) originated from Chile.  For  the bananas (Musa spp) in the first six months of 2020, China imported 946,000 tons of bananas (−9% YOY). The main countries of origin were The Philipines (431,000 tons, −24% YOY), Vietnam (197,000 tons, +21% YOY) and Ecuador (192,000 tons, −12% YOY), with imports from these three countries accounting for 87% of total banana imports.
Fresh kiwifruit in which China imported 51,000 tons of fresh kiwifruit in the first half of 2020. The main exporters of kiwifruit to China over this period were New Zealand (35,000 tons, +3% YOY), Chile (8,000 tons, −45% YOY), Italy (6,000 tons, +44% YOY) and Greece (1,400 tons, −26%). In other fruit,  reported that Fresh Apples between January and June, China’s fresh apple imports fell by 32% to 46,000 tons, with an import value totaling $79.81 million (−34% YOY). Over half of this import volume (25,000 tons) originated from New Zealand, corresponding to a 29% YOY decrease. In 2019, owing to a sharp drop in the production of domestically grown apples, China’s imports of apples from New Zealand witnessed a 77% YOY increase. However, as the supply of domestic apples began to recover in late 2019, the market demand for imported apples displayed a clearly waning trend in the first six months of 2020.

For the exports, t
he top seven fruit categories by export value in the first six months of 2020 were fresh apples ($510 million, +21% YOY), citrus (including mandarin oranges and satsuma oranges, $440 million, +30% YOY), fresh pears ($300 million, +88% YOY), lemons and limes ($120 million, +59% YOY), fresh grapes ($90 million, +13% YOY), peaches and nectarines ($70 million, +20% YOY) and oranges ($60 million, +0% YOY). These seven categories accounted for approximately 80% of the total export value. The top ten markets for China by export value were Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the U.S. and Japan. The highest export are fresh apples in which in the first half of 2020, China exported 400,000 tons of fresh apples, representing a 21% YOY increase. The main export destinations were the Philippines (75,000 tons, +117% YOY), Bangladesh (63,000 tons, +58% YOY), Thailand (47,000 tons, +85% YOY), Vietnam (46,000 tons, +61% YOY) and Indonesia (36,000 tons, −19% YOY). These five countries together accounted for 67% of the total export volume.

It follows by f
resh pears in which China’s fresh pear exports hit a record high of 519,200 tons in 2017. However, in the following two years, the exports registered a downward trend with the total volume in 2019 standing at 470,200 tons. In the first six months of 2020, China’s pear exports witnessed a strong rebound, with 271,000 tons (+121% YOY) of fresh pears being shipped to overseas markets. The main export destinations were Indonesia (121,000 tons, +183% YOY), Vietnam (41,000 tons, +102% YOY), Thailand (25,000 tons, +91% YOY), Malaysia (19,000 tons, +107% YOY), Hong Kong (15,000 tons, +55% YOY), the Philippines (12,000 tons, +259% YOY) and Myanmar (7,000 tons, +153% YOY). These seven markets together accounted for 89% of the total export volume. Citrus (including mandarin oranges and satsuma oranges) exports from China between January and June in which China exported 275,000 tons of citrus, corresponding to a 5% YOY increase. The main overseas markets were Vietnam (105,000 tons, +38% YOY), Myanmar (47,000 tons, +73% YOY), Thailand (35,000 tons, +98% YOY), Malaysia (30,000 tons, −30% YOY) and the Philippines (22,000 tons, +232% YOY). These five countries together accounted for 87% of China’s total citrus exports over this period. Thanks.

By,
M Anim,
Putrajaya,
Malaysia.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

RAUB DURIAN ISSUE - PRICKLY AFFAIR

THE STAR newspaper reported an article titled 'Raub durian land dispute a very prickly affair' on 26 August 2020 in the issue of durian in Raub, Pahang. The durian season may be over, but a prickly and thorny issue has surfaced in Raub, Pahang, the home of the popular but expensive Musang King durian. And sparks have flown. The issue is simple. On one side is a group of durian farmers who cleared the jungles decades ago and converting the land into durian orchards.  They claim they were encouraged to carry out these farming activities by the government, but the fact is that they never managed to own the land on which they had been cultivating. These farmers pointed out that they kept applying for titles and licences through the proper channels from the Pahang state government but failed each time. On the other side is a company that called itself Royal Pahang Durian Produce-PKPP Sdn Bhd. The Pahang state government has announced that the land would be leased to the company to purportedly legalise it. RPDR-PKPP is reportedly a joint venture between the Pahang royalty-linked RPD Group and state entity Perbadanan Kemajuan Pertanian Negeri Pahang (PKPP), with the company reportedly aiming to build and operate the country’s first durian processing centre in Raub next year. According to news reports, the Pahang state government had, on June 24, awarded RPDR-PKPP the lease and rights to use 2,167ha of land in Raub for 30 plus 30 years, with the joint venture partners alleging that the durian farmers had been illegally using the land in question. The dispute has turned emotional, with a group calling themselves the Save Musang King Alliance (Samka) arguing that they are being pressed into signing an “exploitative contract” requiring them to pay “rent” of RM6,000 per 0.4ha for this year, and an additional levy of up to RM20,000 per 0.4ha based on the durians produced. The farmers insisted they are getting a “lousy” deal, claiming the contracts offered by RPDR-PKPP required them to pay a levy of RM6,000 per 0.4ha (with about 30 mature durian trees) for this year, which would translate into a RM60,000 levy for a durian farmer who manages 4ha of land. The controversy is impossible to ignore. It has generated wide media coverage, and videos of farmers chopping down their durian trees have gone viral. The issue has become a trending topic on social media.

The organisers of the protest either rightly or wrongly have turned it into an issue where a company is accused of taking advantage of farmers who had laboured with much sweat and tears to produce the fruit. Never mind that these farmers don’t even own the land. They claim that it didn’t make sense to pay a huge levy to the company, in addition to also selling their harvest to it, and with a fixed amount every year. The episode has morphed into a David and Goliath tale of the powerful and well-connected taking on the poor - many of these farmers live in villages at Tras, Sungai Klau, Sungai Chalit, Tula, Cheetang and Kurau. These names may not ring a bell to most Malaysians but the issue has attracted a following because Malaysians love their durian from Raub or Bentong and two neighbouring districts. It is an issue that they can relate to. However, the company maintains that after audits, monitoring and compliance with the Malaysian Good Agricultural Practices and environmental regulations and the levy sought for is fair. RPDR-PKPP said that while it recognised the role of the farmers in cultivating the land spanning several decades, the activities remained illegal. It noted that the farmers had profited significantly from the government’s efforts in securing China’s frozen whole durian export protocol, adding that it was only right that the state government receive some revenue from land rentals and the Federal Government, some tax revenue. At 2,167ha, it is easily the biggest piece of land with mature durian trees in Malaysia (other huge lands invested by many tycoons take up to seven years before they get to see any durian). There is plenty at stake here because Raub is the main producer of Musang King durians in the world. It has the perfect terrain as the best durians come from hilly areas. This means that the most expensive Musang King durians come from Raub. Here’s the math - the potential harvest from an acre of mature Musang King orchard per year is RM156,000 against rubber (RM4,000) and oil palm (RM17,500). Older Malaysians, who love the King of Fruits, will tell you that a decade ago, it was priced at around RM10 per kg but has now shot up to about RM45 per kg because of the growing demand from China and Singapore. But a simple check online shows that these durians - with their thick and yellow flesh, and creamy, sweet and sometimes bitter taste - can fetch up to RM200 a piece. We all know there isn’t a fixed price mechanism for durians as it’s a free market system.  The Chinese demand for durian is enormous. The total import of durians by China is 600,000 tonnes, worth a whopping RM7.24bil in 2019, although Malaysian durians actually made up only a small portion of it. In the first quarter of 2020, the figure came up to RM94mil, which means this - the potential is enormous. The company and farmers obviously understand the huge amount of money at stake here. Musang King is pure gold. Let’s be frank, the issue here is all about money. While the farmers have been vocal, egged on by local opposition politicians, the company has chosen to remain relatively silent. A general election is looming. It doesn’t make political sense to make voters unhappy, especially when many Malaysians perceive that the powerful ones seem to enjoy greater clout over others. The farmers have said if the state government could legalise the land for the company, why couldn’t the same be done for them?. It would not be a surprise if the dispute goes to court.  The outcome could turn out to be a sweet or a bitter one to the parties involved, much like the taste of the heavenly Musang King. Source: The Star
By,
M Anim,
Putrajaya,
Malaysia.
August 2020.