Vendors Hit as Price of Thai Durian Imports Rise

The price of durian from Thailand has risen sharply this year, leading to shrinking profits for fruit vendors in Phnom Penh as demand from China for the spiky, pungent fruit grows more robust.

On Sihanouk Boulevard, fruit vendor Heng Sovanna said that since March, the price of Thai durian from wholesalers rose from about $1.60 to $2.50 per kg, while his retail price has made an incremental jump from $3.10 to $3.35. He cited growing demand from China and lower available supplies to Cambodia, which imports most of its durian from Thailand, as the cause of the price hike.

“Since March, the supply from Thailand has been lower and prices have gone up. The reason is due to growing demand in China,” he said.

Mr. Sovanna said that because 60 percent of the 650 kg of durian he orders per day comes from Thailand, the rising costs have put him in a pinch.

“We are worried very much because our profits are going down.”

Kao Thouk, a durian wholesaler in Neak Meas market, is facing the same situation. She now pays $1.30 per kg, up from $0.60 last May.

“Export from [Thailand and Vietnam] to China is very high, while exports to Cambodia have decreased significantly,” she said.

“We are facing losses because the import price for durian is much higher, but customers in Cambodia want to buy our fruit at a very low price.”

According to media in Malaysia, one of the world’s biggest growers of durian, Malaysian Agriculture Minister Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said there has been great demand for the fruit in China since it came onto the market in frozen packaged form in 2011.

The sale of frozen durian and related products in China increased from $1.45 million in 2011 to $6.2 million this year, The Star newspaper reported.

But for sellers of Cambodian durian, grown mainly in Kompong Cham and Kampot provinces, business and prices are as normal, as domestic demand remains buoyant during the harvest season from May to July, said Om Srey Mom, who sells fruit on Sihanouk Boulevard.

“We sell only Cambodian durian so we are not affected by the China situation,” said Ms. Srey Mom, who sells her durian for between $2 and $3.75 per kg.

“Cambodian durian has a better taste and the supply is low, which is why the price is higher than Vietnam and Thailand’s,” she said.

Durian trees are slow to bear fruit, taking seven to eight years to mature from seedlings, while the fruits take four months from flowering before they drop to the ground during harvest time.

Chuong Sophal, dean of the Royal University of Agriculture’s faculty of agronomy, said Cambodia needs to increase its production of durian, but it is not financially feasible for many farmers due to the time it takes for trees to bear fruit.

“If we were able to grow more durian in Cambodia it would be good because there would be no need to import from other countries and our price would be lower,” he said. “But durian needs a long time to grow and a lot of investment, so for poor farmers it’s hard.”

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