Media Statement: Deforestation for durian plantations poses serious long-term risks to industry’s productivity and profitability

Download the statement in pdf format: Deforestation for durian plantations poses serious long-term risks to industry_s productivity and profitability

Kuala Lumpur, 25 October – We refer to the recent news report by The Star’s Sim Leoi Leoi and Ong Han Sean: ‘Jungle’s goodness gone – and it’s legal’, on 23 October 2018. We are concerned that the durian, Southeast Asia’s beloved ‘king of fruits’ and such a culturally significant element of this region, is turning into the next new monoculture crop driving yet more deforestation and biodiversity loss in Malaysia.

This not only causes the destruction of critical habitat for wide-ranging animals such as tigers, elephants, primates, and hornbills – it also reduces the numbers of the very pollinators that are necessary for durian fruit production, and which the durian industry therefore heavily relies on for profit.

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Musang King durians for sale in Peninsular Malaysia. COPYRIGHT: PIERRE-MICHEL FORGET

Unlike other monoculture crops such as oil palm and rubber, the Durio zibethinus durian tree is native to Malaysia, a natural component of our unique tropical ecosystem. As it cannot self-pollinate, it requires a specific native pollination system that has evolved over millennia, which involves a unique, complex, and specialised set of interactions between the tree and the wild animal pollinators that it depends on. Research has shown that the only truly efficient natural pollinators of the durian trees are the plant-visiting bats of the family Pteropodidae (see Project Pteropus press release: ‘Durian industry may suffer without endangered fruit bats’ for further information).

Commonly referred to as ‘fruit bats’, this vitally important animal group is the most effective at performing natural durian pollination, providing an essential and irreplaceable service to the durian industry for free. Yet Malaysia’s long-distance durian pollinators, the giant fruit bats known as flying foxes (Pteropus hypomelanus and Pteropus vampyrus), are already severely threatened by hunting. Any further removal of their forest habitat and food resources will continue to reduce the effectiveness of their role in durian fruit production. On top of this, the durian-pollinating Cave Nectar Bat (Eonycteris spelaea) is threatened by uncontrolled limestone quarrying. Any removal of forest around or near limestone karsts will reduce the habitat suitability of these caves, and will also prevent the bats from travelling further to the durian farms that are in need of pollination.

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Video-trap footage showing a flying fox pollinating durian flowers. COPYRIGHT: RIMBA

Although there is some preliminary research suggesting that the Asian Giant Honeybee (Apis dorsata) can also serve as a secondary pollinator in areas with no bat pollinators, it is restricted to a strictly supporting role with greatly reduced fruit production – and this threatened insect group is also highly dependent on pristine rainforest habitat for its survival.

Therefore, destroying pollinator habitats and food resources in order to establish durian monoculture simply does not make good business sense. Companies that engage in this practice are prematurely destroying the very future profits that they hope to derive from their durian business in the first place. In the absence of our native, natural pollinators of durian trees, farmers would have to invest extra time, labour, and money to hand-pollinate their trees. Continue reading

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