Durian orchards in Malaysia ripe with theft due to soaring fruit prices

Durian orchard owners in Malaysia have been weary of passers-by near their orchards ever since shortages caused the fruit's price to soar.
Durian orchard owners in Malaysia have been weary of passers-by near their orchards ever since shortages caused the fruit's price to soar.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

PENANG (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - With durian prices breaking records - a single Musang King can sell up to RM110 (S$37) here - the king of fruits is attracting not just fans but thieves as well.

So wary is orchard owner Datuk Dr Lim Seh Guan of thieves that he turns around to check at the sound of a motorcycle approaching.

"There are many small orchards here and we don't fence all around our land. We respect each other's boundaries.

"But this year, for the first time ever, we saw thieves. They move around by motorcycle several times a day in search of fallen durians," he said.

Dr Lim, who works as an ear, nose and throat surgeon, tends to the 18 durian trees on his 0.65ha orchard that he bought 15 years ago.

One evening last month, Dr Lim, 53, said he confronted a motorcyclist picking up durians from his neighbour's land.

"He claimed he was scavenging for recyclables and just wanted a couple of durians to eat. We do allow locals to eat a few for free.

"But the basket on his motorbike was full of durians! My farmhand confronted another motorcyclist doing the same thing and he got threatened," he said.

He said a seller in town had told him last week that he was "hard up" for premium quality durians.

"His regular customer had reserved 100 prime durians, but there are so few now."

His neighbour, Mr Lee Min Fun, 59, who has been selling durians for 30 years, sold a single large Musang King fruit for RM110.

"The price of Musang King is now RM50 per kg in Balik Pulau, and RM60 to RM70 per kg in the city.

"Previously, it was RM20 to RM35 per kg," Mr Lee said, adding that he believed Musang King durians were now all sold out in Balik Pulau.

He attributed this shortage to the dry spell from El Nino earlier this year as well as a weaker ringgit, attracting foreigners and spiking export demand.

He said agents were offering to buy in bulk for export to Singapore, China and Hong Kong.