China's lust for durian is creating fortunes in Southeast Asia

June 18, 2024 | Economic Times |

Eric Chan made a significant career shift from a well-paying job in satellite and robotics coding to pioneering a durian business in Malaysia, a move that puzzled his family and friends initially. Durian, known as the world's smelliest fruit, has long been a cultural staple in Southeast Asia, but its economic potential soared when China developed a taste for it.

Last year, durian exports from Southeast Asia to China reached $6.7 billion, a twelvefold increase from 2017, with Thailand leading as the top exporter followed by Malaysia and Vietnam. This surge transformed local economies, turning some durian farmers into millionaires and prompting Chan to sell a majority stake in his durian paste production company for $4.5 million.

The demand from China reshaped agriculture in Southeast Asia, with farmers expanding durian orchards at the expense of other crops like coffee in Vietnam. Despite challenges such as transporting the notoriously pungent fruit and land disputes over orchards, the economic boom from durian exports has been undeniable.

For Chan and many farmers, this shift has brought newfound prosperity, enabling them to upgrade their lifestyles and invest in education abroad for their children. The durian industry's growth underscores China's influence in global markets, illustrating how a country's consumer preferences can profoundly impact regional economies and cultural identities tied to agricultural products like durian.

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