Realising durian’s potential in Indonesia

durian_choo yat shingIf grown in mixed fruit tree systems in Indonesia, Durian could move closer towards reaching its full potential, says new research by the World Agroforestry Centre and Indonesia’s Forestry Research and Development Agency (FORDA).

Durian (Durio zibethinusis) a highly prized fruit in Southeast Asia, where it is known as the ‘king of fruits’. While being internationally recognized for its strong odour, large size and thorny skin, durian is also extremely nutritious. It contains no cholesterol but high levels of vitamin C and potassium, and is a good source of carbohydrates.

“Durian is extremely popular in Indonesia and considered to have economic value,” says Hesti Tata, Post-doctoral Fellow with the World Agroforestry Centre. “But durian is still categorized as underutilized because its potential contribution to markets and household economies is not being fully exploited.”

Tata and colleagues sought to understand what factors are limiting the production of durian and other underutilized fruits on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and what can be done to improve sustainable fruit production.

In Sumatra, smallholder farmers cultivate durian and other fruit trees in agroforestry systems. Commonly these trees are combined with rubber and other fruit trees and nuts, such as bedaro (Dimocarpus longan subsp. malesianus), champeden (Artocarpus integra) and stinky bean (Parkia speciosa).

“There are 3 factors that limit durian production: the basic characteristics of the tree, its management and climate,” explains Tata.

When it comes to tree characteristics, the position of a tree’s crown or the form of this crown can determine how different trees in agroforestry systems compete for light and space which impacts on their growth and productivity. According to Tata, competition with other trees accounts for 70 per cent of the variation they found in the productivity of durian and other fruit trees.

The way in which durian trees are managed also affects their productivity. Farmers in Sumatra tend to opt for one of 2 different designs in their tree gardens: growing different tree species in a regular pattern such as rows or in a randomized fashion. In West Kalimantan, durian trees are planted in a clustered pattern, with rubber trees on the perimeter of a farm and fruit trees in the centre.

“Each of these designs has its own purpose and rationale, but may not be the most effective in maximizing fruit tree production.”

Climate too plays an important role with different fruit trees responding differently to climatic variation. In 2010-2011 high levels of precipitation were experienced due to La Niña and Tata believes this explains a significant drop in fruit tree productivity.

To overcome the 3 factors preventing durian from reaching its full potential in Indonesia, Tata and colleagues recommend mixed systems where a range of different fruit tree species are grown.

“Mixed systems could help to counterbalance the climate sensitivity of individual species and ensure higher productivity,” says Tata. “They could also lead to a more dynamic system that can provide a diverse yield for the farmer and be easily adapted to maintain the most beneficial interactions between different trees.”

The researchers also recommend the use of tried and tested durian varieties and building the capacity of farmers in vegetative propagation techniques, nursery establishment and the management of agroforestry systems.

Download the poster:

Tata H L, Harja D, Mulyoutami E. (2014) Underutilized fruit trees in agroforestry systems in Central and North Sumatra: Opportunities and challenges. Poster presented at World Congress of Agroforestry. World Agroforestry Centre Southeast Asia, Bogor Indonesia.

See also (available with subscription): Narendra BH, Roshetko JM, Tata HL, Mulyoutami E. (2012) Prioritizing underutilized tree species for domestication in smallholder systems of West Java. Small-scale Forestry 12:519-538.'

Kate Langford

Kate Langford is a consultant writer with close to 20 years’ experience in communicating natural resource, environmental and land management issues for various government and non-government organizations. She previously worked as Communications Specialist for the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya and has worked in Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Australia. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Scientific Communication.

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