Don't botch durian trade

Don't botch durian trade

Unripe or substandard durian has always been a thorn in the side of Thailand's durian exports, particularly at the start of each harvest season when the so-called "king of fruits" fetches the highest prices due to limited supply and high demand.

The latest report of substandard shipments emerged last week with a load of Thai-produced durians being sold in the Chinese city of Shanghai. Agriculture Minister Chalermchai Sri-on immediately ordered the Thai attaches at the consular office there to investigate the issue.

The swift response by the minister is commendable. The question is how many shipments have escaped the scrutiny of Thailand's quality control measures. Since it's been an ongoing issue, it's something that won't fade away, especially when bad decisions keep being made.

In October, the Agriculture Department removed a senior official admired by many durian farmers for his dedication to cracking down on those involved in the trading of unripe durians. The abrupt transfer led to a protest by several honest durian farmers in Chanthaburi province, but it failed to stop the move.

But unripe or substandard durians are just one aspect of a broader problem involving the trade. There are more worrisome issues that have not been properly addressed by the government or authorities concerned.

One of them is the role of Chinese businessmen. It is an open secret that Chinese businessmen are now taking over the export trade of Thai durians to the Chinese market.

Most of the companies, known locally as Long, a term that stands for middleman, are owned by Chinese businessmen or by their Thai nominees. They are involved in purchasing the durians directly from the farmers, then selecting, packaging, and exporting the fruits to China.

Having such far-reaching roles, they are in a position to dictate or manipulate the domestic price of the fruit, causing headaches for Thai durian farmers. In many ways, it harks back to the infamous "zero dollar" Chinese-run package tour business in Thailand a decade ago.

Last year, about 187 billion baht worth of durians were exported, mostly to China, but how much of this revenue ends up in the pockets of Thai durian farmers is unclear.

But it's clear that it's a fruit with a future; it just needs to be better managed by the government on behalf of Thai farmers.

Despite durian being a top export earner, there seems to be a complete lack of government policy to properly manage this "golden fruit" in a sustainable manner.

There are no restrictions or limits on where the plants should be grown and how much land should be used for their cultivation or a zoning system.

According to a study by the International Trade Studies Centre at the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce, durian-cultivated land in the Northeast has increased sixfold in the past ten years.

Meanwhile, more trees are being planted due to durian's attractive prices.

Importantly, the government must not allow durian to suffer the same mistake as para rubber did. Over a decade ago, almost every politician who had a sizeable empty land plot grew rubber trees to join the rubber bandwagon when rubber prices were so tempting. At the same time, fruit orchard owners chopped down their fruit trees to plant rubber trees instead.

But finally, harsh reality set in when prices crashed.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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