The Malaysian National Fruit Conference (Buah 2021) was successfully organized virtually by the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) in collaboration with International Tropical Fruits Network (TFNet) from the 6th to 8th April 2021.
Buah 2021 attracted approximately 300 participants ranging from researchers, government officers, industry players, and the academia. A total of four keynotes, thirty oral and sixty five poster presentations were delivered by experts in the field.
Throughout the three-day symposium, the presentations covered topics related to the Malaysian tropical fruits industry including new research towards increasing crop quality and good agricultural practices, emerging post-harvest and value chain improvement technologies, markets and trade, and strategies towards increasing the competitiveness of local fruits in the international market.
The symposium was officiated by the Honourable Datuk Seri Haji Ahmad Bin Hamzah, Deputy Minister from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries (MAFI), Malaysia. A soft launch for the FAO-UN’s International Year of Fruits and Vegetables (IYFV) 2021 also took place with the official promo video played during the opening ceremony, which was attended by various dignitaries from government agencies and was viewed live virtually by participants of the conference. TFNet took the opportunity to present the IYFV 2021 background paper to the Honourable Deputy Minister during his visit to TFNet’s booth.
To enrich the national level dialogues with international perspectives, a session for international papers was chaired by TFNet ACEO, Dorothy Chandrabalan.
During this session, TFNet Advisor Yacob Ahmad presented his keynote address on ‘Challenges in Developing the Fruit Industry: A Regional Perspective’, which highlighted the major regional trends and emerging economies. Yacob also brought to fore the realities and challenges that should be taken into consideration when developing new policies for improving Malaysia’s position as one of the leading tropical fruit producers and exporters in the region.
Four experts from TFNet member countries presented the developments in Fiji, Vietnam, Indonesia, and China. Fiji’s agriculture expert, Shalendra Prasad from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fiji provided a comprehensive overview on the successful development of the Fiji Red papaya’s value chain for export. Dr. Panca Jarot Santoso of the Indonesian Tropical Fruits Institute (ITFRI) enlightened participants on the efforts being undertaken to expand and develop its avocado industry. Dr. Nguyen Quoc Hung of Vietnam’s Fruit and Vegetable Research Institute (FAVRI) spoke at length on Vietnam’s strategies for boosting its tropical fruit exports to the global market. And finally, Dr. Tan Yanwen of the Southern China Agricultural University extended an analysis and review of the present market trends and future outlook for China’s fruit sector.
These international presentations confirm the significant evolvement of the market for tropical fruits compared to previous decades, with new forms of challenges to tackle. It is also evident that tropical fruits will be an important feature, taking up a substantial share in global trade in the coming future.
A panel discussion held on the final day of the event involved key experts from the public and private sectors in Malaysia discussing existing issues which continue to plague the fruit industry in Malaysia, and recommendations for improving the present scenario on Malaysia’s position as an exporter of tropical fruits in the region.
Representing TFNet at the panel discussion was Yacob Ahmad who reiterated that Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam are aggressively pursuing efforts to increase their fruit exports, with other emerging economies like Cambodia and Laos following suit. He highlighted the need for local fruits to be more affordable domestically, such as the sought after and exported durian variety Musang King.
In terms of strengthening Malaysia’s export advantage, he emphasized on the need for the government to diversify and expand its export focus to nearby destinations such as Singapore rather than competing with countries such as Vietnam and Laos, which are penetrating into China’s already competitive trading landscape. He added that proximity and logistics are important parameters to consider for exports. In addition, he proposed the possibility of improving harvesting techniques for durian from ‘fully ripen’ to ‘harvest mature on the tree’ to improve shelf life.
For Malaysia to compete with regional leaders, Yacob called for developing other fruits of great potential including rambutans, jackfruit, pineapple, papaya, guava, passion fruit, and soursop.
His closing remarks recommended comprehensive R&D efforts involving greater collaboration with increased government funding, development of export-oriented policies for fruits, increasing domestic consumption, the establishment of an independent body for fruits, and expanding the existing TKPM (Permanent Food Production Areas) concept to overcome lack of land for expanding production through greater investments from the private sector.