KUALA LUMPUR (March 6): Homegrown durian planter DSR Fruits Sdn Bhd is eyeing to take the famed Musang King and the orchards growing it to the next level while pooling smallholders to pave the way for sustainable year-round income.
The Raub, Pahang-based durian plantation owner and distributor is delving into its own experience of increasing its acreage from three acres to 46 acres in recent years to convince other smallholders to extract greater value, together, and more sustainably. DSR’s own expansion was both organic and through acquisition of individual and family-owned orchards in Raub.
In an email interview, Datuk Ng Lian Poh, who co-founded DSR with business partner Ng Soh Kian, explained that most orchard owners are protective of their tried-and-tested tactics to make their specialty durian.
“While difficult to get them to share trade secrets at first, they discovered that owning nearly 50 acres as a group was quite different from having 10 acres individually or in a family.
“By pooling resources and ideas, we created a systematic orchard management structure, such as implementing a proper harvesting and distribution system to improve yields.”
Lian Poh is the former chief executive officer of industrial chemicals distributor Samchem Holdings Bhd.
He added that levelling up also meant digitising its operations with Internet of Things (IoT) and big data.
“With larger acreage, deploying technology became more viable. We collect data on weather conditions and soil quality for tracking and forecasting.
“We have also connected with local research institutions for recommendations on smart farming and crop management to better monitor the crops’ health, maintain the fertility of land and enhance bottomline,” he said.
With the orchard management structure and scalable systems in place, Lian Poh said DSR is targeting to expand its durian orchard to cover 500 acres in the near future, adding that its fund-raising options included exploring a listing exercise on Bursa Malaysia Securities Bhd as a pure-play durian planter.
He said DSR is allocating about one-third of its products (durian pulp and durian paste) for the domestic market, with the balance for the international market through its own established network overseas.
“Being part of a larger group means that players look out for each other instead of engaging in cut-throat competition that would hurt the industry,” he said.
Citing the Department of Statistics Malaysia, Lian Poh said Malaysia is the third largest durian supplier in the world, trailing behind Thailand and Indonesia.
On another matter, Lian Poh said Covid-19 may have helped its cause to catalyze the sector.
“Windfall earnings that were sure every season suddenly became uncertain because export demand dropped.
“Even though export distribution channels which were disrupted in March were eventually restored a few months later, the larger issue of slowing global demand was stubbornly persistent,” he said.
Because of this, DSR intends to establish a Musang King-based product pipeline on top of its fresh fruit supply, so that farmers gain sustainable income year-round, and not just during the season, he said.
Lian Poh said that currently, Malaysia’s durian players are focused either on upstream supply of fresh fruit or midstream as distributors and retailers of fresh fruit or durian paste.
“There is very little emphasis on downstream products, with the majority of them [catering] to tourists.
“There is no player in Malaysia that consolidates the whole value chain from farm to table, partly because it was not cost-effective for smallholders to invest a portion of fruits for experiments and product development,” he said.
Lian Poh highlighted that DSR is developing downstream products meant for both tourists and the domestic market.
“We have spent the past year collaborating with a food manufacturer and retailer to develop Musang King-based products for the Malaysian market.
“This is our value-add that will raise yields exponentially for orchard owners. We hope to kickstart this downstream product venture by mid-2021, and through this promote it to be synonymous with the Malaysian identity,” he said.
Samchem CEO Ng Lian Poh resigns