A Rayong agricultural inspector has been given an armed security escort after receiving death threats from angry durian growers.
Rayong Agricultural officer Songtham Chamnan filed a complaint with Kleng District police April 2 that several durian farmers and traders have pooled 1 million baht to hire a hitman to kill him after Songtham cracked down on their early harvesting of the pungent fruit.
Rayong Gov. Wichit Chatpaisit ordered police to provide Songtham an escort until the threat has passed.
Rayong Agricultural officer Songtham Chamnan is trying to help local farmers, but apparently they don’t see it that way.
The Rayong incident is just a slice of the ripening battle between fruit growers and government officials trying to maintain the reputation of one of Thailand’s signature exports. In Rayong, Chantaburi and Trat, authorities are checking warehouse and jailing both farmers and traders caught harvesting durians too early, spoiling their taste and damaging the fruit’s demand overseas.
Normally, Chani, Mon Thong and Kan Yao durians take 110-135 days to ripen, with growers typically cutting and leaving them in the fields another week to sweeten further. This year, however, a band of durian brokers have been enticing farmers to cut their fruit early by offering a lump sum payment for their entire crop.
Growers are taking the payments, even through in some cases the per-durian price is lower than farmers could fetch selling fruit in smaller lots. The reason? Doing so means less work and a short-term gain for the farmers, who show little worry about the long-term impact.
In Rayong, Wichit has ordered agricultural officials to arrest or file lawsuits against growers and traders violating Thai agricultural and consumer-protection laws. Klaeng’s district chief, Sophon Chomchujan, has followed other provinces in village chiefs and sheriffs to check warehouses and look for premature fruit.
Thailand is a major durian-growing country, producing 510,000 tons last year, 350,000 of which were exported as fresh fruit for about 5.8 billion baht.