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Tech that keeps Thai durian at top of market

(Jan. 2023) To its fans, durian is the King of Fruit. It smells like heaven and tastes like it. For others, its pungent aroma is a major turnoff. One thing cannot be denied though: durian is big business. Thailand, the world’s top exporter, shipped off nearly $6 billion worth of the divisive delicacy in 2022.

CP durian promotion in a supermarket in China

Understandably, Thai exporters are keen to maintain their reputation for quality durians in the international market. It’s a challenge. More and more Thai farmers are new to durian growing, having recently switched from other crops, like rubber. This makes it harder to uphold established standards. In addition, performing quality control is traditionally a labor-intensive job that is prone to errors.

But technology can help. CP Group, one of Thailand’s top agrifood brands, collaborated with the Agricultural Research Development Agency and Huawei Cloud to develop quality inspection systems. Combining infrared sensors and cloud-based artificial intelligence, the solution provides a helping hand at a time when experienced and reliable quality inspectors are in tight supply on the labor market.

Paitoon Vanichri among his trees

According to Paitoon Vanichsri, a durian farm owner in Trat’s province in eastern Thailand, an export-grade durian needs to have five lobes and be free of disease and insects. It must weigh between 2.5 and 6 kilograms. And the starch content must exceed 32%.

Initial selection of the durians on the trees is performed by cutters. They sometimes operate at height, standing precariously on branches or ladders which can lead them to picking unsuitable fruit or to causing damage during the cutting of the stem.

Harvested durians then go through inspection. The traditional method is for a skilled evaluator to lightly tap on the fruit with a special stick, the sound indicating whether it is ripe and of suitable quality. Errors can and do occur, especially as many inspectors are new to the job.

Durian tappers at work

Associate professor Ronnarit Rittiron, head of near infrared Laboratory Department of Food Engineering Faculty at Kasetsart University (Kamphaeng Saen Campus), was part of the team that developed a solution. Gun-shaped sensors emit near-infrared radiation when pointed at the skin of the fruit. The collected data is uploaded to the cloud where artificial intelligence determines whether the fruit is ready to be cut and sold. The process does not ruin the flesh inside.

“I believe if exporters use the machines, they will be able to guarantee the quality of the durians they are exporting and ensure the fruits are properly ripe for export thus matching quality and taste desired by consumers,“ Rittiron says.

The solution inspects quickly and accurately

“We now manage to achieve 80% accuracy,” says Dr. Yue Jun Jiang, Chief Technology Officer at CP Group. It’s a percentage that will rise as more data improves the accuracy of the AI.

“For the smart agriculture industry, we expect AI will play a major role with IoT, with robotics, with drones, and with satellites,” Jiang adds. “And together, we provide a digital transformation of the agricultural industry.”

Watch the video to see how Thai growers and exporters implement the solution: