Newleaf seeks to tap into huge China demand for durians

Newleaf Plantation Berhad managing director Kenny Wan is confident Malaysia can garner a greater share of the durian export market to China within the next few years. — Newleaf Plantation Berhad pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 19 —With increased appetite and demand from China for durians, it is only a matter of time before Malaysia makes its mark in a market traditionally dominated by Thailand.

This is the view of Newleaf Plantation Berhad managing director Kenny Wan, who said durian demand in China has grown tremendously over the past several years.

“Although less than one per cent of China’s population consumes durian, it is currently the third highest in terms of import value,” he said at Newleaf’s headquarters in Mont Kiara.

Wan added the import value of durian to China from 2010 to 2019 grew by a staggering 700 per cent.

“It is expected to grow higher, as between 2017 to 2023 it may increase by another 50 to 60 per cent.

“For now Malaysia only supplies less than four per cent of China’s total durian imports, which is likely to change,” he said.

This is in part due to the near-monopoly held by Thailand, who had a 30-year agreement with China to supply nearly 95 per cent of its total durian imports that expired in 2015.

Wan’s interest in durian farming was piqued four years ago. Formerly a bank analyst by profession, he was invited by an old friend to visit his fruit farm in Kuantan, where papayas, bananas and coconuts were grown.

“That caught my attention, and after I returned from that trip, I did my own research and discovered durian plantations to be a yet widely-tapped aspect.

“Together with some friends we purchased 50 acres of freehold land in Raub, Pahang, where our plantation is now situated,” he said.

In the span of four years, Newleaf now boasts of almost 2,800 durian trees in various stages, primarily of the famed Musang King variant, but also includes D24 and the kampong variants.

“A durian tree takes about four to five years to become mature enough to start bearing flowers and fruit.

“Past the sixth year, the number of fruit it can produce begins to increase. Older and sturdier trees can grow as much as 80 to 120 durians annually,” he said, adding durian trees can live well over a century and still produce fruit.

An interesting aspect of Newleaf’s plantation is their iFarm intelligent farming system, which Wan says to his knowledge is not done elsewhere in Malaysia.

“Basically it includes sensors to detect air temperature and humidity, the soil moisture and pH value, data management system to record each individual tree’s health condition, harvest, fertilisation, and other vital information.

“The latest updates data can even be accessed via QR codes unique to each individual tree. With this system, we are confident problems caused by the traditional farming method can be solved,” he said.

With his interest in durian farming growing over time, Wan said Newleaf is now looking to expand its horizons.

“For starters, we have applied to lease 1,000 acres from the Pahang state government, around Rompin. For now, we are just waiting while the authorities do a check on our company profile and other details,” he said.

Even as small to medium players dominate the Malaysian durian plantation market, Wan is certain that in the next few years major plantation corporations including Sime Darby and IOI will seek to benefit from the increased Chinese demand for durians as well.

“It is not a question of if, more of a question of when. So at least when the large corporations begin to penetrate durian exporting, Newleaf will have a head start in that respect,” he said.

* Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article contained an error by Newleaf on the size of the freehold land it bought and has since been rectified.

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