The Musang King durian is set to become Malaysia’s next major export as the country rushes to develop thousands of hectares to cash in on unprecedented demand for the fruit from China. According to The Sun, once planted in family orchards and small-scale farms, the durian is attracting investments like never before. Even property tycoons and companies in palm oil are making forays into the durian business.

The government is encouraging large-scale farming of durian, counting on a 50 per cent jump in exports by 2030.

“The durian industry is transforming from local to global, large-scale farming due to the great demand from China,” said Paul Martin, director of sales for Durian Harvests

“Before the boom, a durian farm in Malaysia would be a leisure farm. Now they are hundreds of acres and bigger, and many more will come.”

Durian may be banned in some airports, public transport and hotels in Southeast Asia for its pungent smell, but the Chinese are huge fans. Durian-flavoured foods sold in China include pizza, butter, salad dressing and milk.

“At first, I also hated durians because I thought they have a weird smell,” said Helen Li, 26, eating at a shop specialising in durian pizza in Shanghai, where nearly every customer ordered the 60 yuan (RM35) dish during a lunch hour rush.

“But when you taste it, it’s really quite delicious. I think those who hate durian are scared by its smell. But once you try it, I think their opinion will change.”

At another Shanghai restaurant selling durian chicken hotpot ― a type of sizzling broth ― for 148 yuan (RM89), owner Chen Weihao said the store could sell 20kg to 25 kg of imported Thai durian every month.

Chinese pay top dollar for the “musang king” variety because of its creamy texture and bitter-sweet taste. The prices for “musang king” have nearly quadrupled in the last five years.

China’s durian imports rose 15 per cent last year to nearly 350,000 tonnes worth US$510 million (RM2.14 billion), according to the United Nations’ trade database..

Malaysia accounted for less than 1 per cent, but expects sales to China to jump to 22,061 tonnes by 2030 from this year’s likely 14,600 tonnes, as trade is widened to include whole fruit from the current restriction to durian pulp and paste.

Lim said palm oil giant IOI Corp and property-to-resorts conglomerate Berjaya Corp have approached him about making ventures into durian farming.

Felda said the agricultural ministry began planting durian on its land this year.

Durian Harvests is on target to plant over 10,000 new Musang King trees in the next two years. “We founded the company because we see potential in the industry, the primary target being China,” said Mr. Paul Martin.

“Planting durians is not just a hobby today as durians are considered as ‘gold’ in the agriculture industry,” the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry said in an e-mail.

Malaysia’s durian plantations covered 72,000ha last year but the area under cultivation is growing, the department said, and in some areas plantations growing palm oil are switching to durian because it is seen as more lucrative.