Sunday, December 23, 2012

Durians galore at Batu Niah

IT WAS slightly over two months ago that durians were selling for high prices when the tropical king of fruits first appeared in the market from October to early November.

Normally, a bountiful harvest is a windfall to farmers and cultivators but this year, you can find durians selling everywhere at almost give-away prices — as low as 50 sen each in some places!

This is especially true in areas close to the source of durians such as Batu Niah and Marudi where planters lamented the low prices fetched in local markets — so the ‘royal fruits’ had to be sold further away in bigger towns and cities.

On one such occasion, thesundaypost was invited to join a trip to a durian orchard at Batu Niah, about an hour’s drive from Miri city.

The orchard owner decided it was no longer worthwhile selling the thorny and strong smelling fruits due to prevailing low prices, preferring to give them away to friends and relatives.

The oversupply of the once pricey and much sought after fruits was thought to correlate with abundant harvests that coincided with the Monsoon towards end of the year. The wet season is usually credited with bringing down the fruits during the night when it rained.

The rain had to be just right — not too heavy nor too light, and by the next morning, there would be plenty of fruits for the picking right off the ground.

So on a fine Sunday morning, I set out on my first trip to explore a durian orchard in Sarawak. I had been to durian orchards before but never really explored the ground for the fruits.

It was a relaxing solo drive along the coastal road through Bakam to the orchard belonging to Lim Khim Boon who owns eight acres of the land, previously planted with some 300 durian trees and later replanted with oil palms when the commodity fetched good prices.

However, about 100 durian trees and a few other types of fruit trees were left untouched for visitors, creating a somewhat interesting plantation-cum-orchard.

Our harvesting point or base was a birdnest building constructed two years ago. It provided a convenient shelter for visitors.

“We never had to worry about theft around here. The local folks are honest people who will never steal fruits at Batu Niah,” said the owner who generously gave away durians and other fruits to visitors at the end of the visit.

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