In the early 1900s, the sleepy town of Raub was nationally famous for gold as miners regularly scooped handfuls of it from trays of sand they dug up.
While the gold has since dwindled, the district is now world-famous for another precious commodity – the Musang King durian.
Dubbed as the Musang King hub of Malaysia, this town in the east Malaysian state of Pahang, has been blessed with the right conditions to grow the durian brand that is popular in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore.
The Musang King – or Mao Shan Wang – is popular among consumers for its creamy texture and bright-yellow appearance.
And the export of these durians has become a booming business for Raub entrepreneurs, some of whom are now among Malaysia’s wealthiest fruit farmers.
One example is Mr Jovi Kong, who owns two durian farms in Raub, totaling 85 acres. He started planting durians 10 years ago, and he already owns two landed properties – one in Raub and another in Kuala Lumpur – and drives luxury cars.
“Raub is very different from other Malaysian towns, the people living here are rich. There’s enormous spending power in this town and it’s all because of the durians,” said the 44-year-old.
Mr Kong told CNA that most plantation owners in Raub are millionaires, based on the values of the property and land they own.
He showed this reporter a picture of his bungalow house in Raub – a three-storey modern structure with two garages, but declined for the property to be photographed.
He added that the land in Raub was “invaluable”, and pledged not to sell his plantations unless he gets an offer in excess of RM10 million.
“One acre of a Musang King plantation is worth RM 500,000 these days, and most owners have 10 acres or more,” he said.
His durian farm, 5S Durian Station, located near the base of tourist hotspot Fraser Hill, welcomes visitors by the bus loads of around 200 people each time. The visitors are mostly from China, and the guided tours are arranged around twice every week.
He said that he generates revenue of “a few hundred thousand ringgit” every year from exporting durians to China, Hong Kong and Singapore, and these earnings are supplemented by tourist visits to his farm charged at RM50 per head.
Mr Lu Yuee Thing, another Raub plantation owner, told CNA that he has farmed durians in the area for 40 years.
His farm – Uncle Thing Durian Leisure Farm – grows largely Musang King and Black Thorn varieties. Both are premium durians which are popular among China and Hong Kong importers.
Mr Lu, who said that he earns a seven-figure revenue annually, told CNA that his wealth and success can be attributed to his home town.
“The soil (in Raub) is very suitable for cultivating durians. Also, the climate is very good. The temperature between day and night has a difference of about 10 degrees celsius. The environment here has not suffered from serious pollution. Without air pollution, the durians we produced are of exceptional quality,” he said.
Mr Lu added that Raub’s geographical location – on a valley in between Genting Highlands and Cameron Highlands – is ideal to grow Musang King durians.
“Nowadays, Chinese, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan tourists choose to come to Raub to eat durians. We have a lot of such clients who come here specially to eat. Sometimes they come once a year, sometimes twice. They would recommend their friends to come too,” he added.
Mr Lu first started planting durians in the 1980s – before the hybrid variety durians became popular. He planted kampung durians and only started planting D24 and 101 durians later on.
He said that initially, the durian business was not lucrative, as the prices of durians were volatile and larger harvests meant that businesses were not able to cover costs.
“It was so terrible that some (farmers) began planting oil palm instead. I have also done that, converting some of my land to use for planting palm,” he said.
Over the years, the durian business evolved, and companies began planting better varieties.
“We started planting Mao Shan Wang. It helped broaden our market. We started exporting to Singapore and Hong Kong. We also sold them to Macau and China. With Mao Shan Wang, durian farmers started to earn a profit,” he said.
Mr Steven Yee, one of four owners from Raub-based durian company – UF 999 – told CNA that the high prices Chinese are willing to pay for Raub’s Musang King increases profit margin.
He explained that a few years ago, Musang King durians were priced at around RM25 per kg, but the fruits are now being sold for RM45 per kg as a result of how much foreign importers were willing to pay.
Mr Yee, along with his business partners Mr Sam Fong, Mr Alex Leong and Mr Yu Ping, told CNA that they each now earn around RM1 million annually, having been in the business for five to ten years. Their farm, spanning around 10 hectares, is located at Bukit Kuman, Raub.
“Raub is the biggest Musang King hub in the world, and investment from China is only going to make us richer,” he said.
“The Musang King durians from this state will be given its own brand name, so that they will be recognised when exported. If not, Musang King sellers from other states … will claim that their durians are from Pahang,” he said.
Pahang’s chief minister, Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail, lauded Raub’s international success in producing the Musang King variety.
In his speech as guest-of-honour for Raub’s International Durian festival on Friday (Jul 12), Mr Wan Rosdy said the state government is looking to brand the Musang King durians that are produced in Pahang, to differentiate its “premium quality” from durians of the same variety produced in other states.
“The Musang King durians from this state will be given its own brand name, so that they will be recognised when exported. If not, Musang king sellers from other states … will claim that their durians are from Pahang,” he said.
He added that Raub should utilise its premium durians to attract tourists to the state, especially from China.
“Last year, Pahang had around 700,000 tourists from China, but now we want one million. We want Raub to be a friendly city (to Chinese tourists),” he said.
Around 10,000 people from various parts of Malaysia attended the opening day of the festival in Raub. Delegates from China were also present as special guests invited by the Pahang state government.