Malaysia: Drought and lack of manpower driving up fruit prices

The Star 18 Apr 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Drought and an acute manpower shortage are driving up prices of local fruit but the worst is yet to come, warns the Malaysian Fruit Farmers Association.

Its president Hong Jok Hon said consumers would have to pay even more for their favourite local fruit, including papaya, banana, guava and jackfruit, in the months ahead.

Hong, whose fruit farms are in Johor, said there had been three periods of drought between 2014 and 2015, apart from the one they were facing now.

He said the streams and rivers used by farmers to irrigate their farms were drying up due to the effects of the hot weather.

“I’ve been a fruit farmer for 50 years. It’s never been this bad before,” said the 70-year-old who supplies guava and starfruit to local wholesalers, night markets, supermarkets and Singapore.

Speaking after the annual general meeting of the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Fruit Farmers Association and launch of the Fruit Farmers’ Cooperative, Hong said local fruit production was down by at least 40% this season.

He also pointed out that more, and not fewer, workers were needed to tend to fruit trees during drought but the Government’s ban on the intake of new foreign workers was making the situation much worse.

His farms need a minimum of 150 workers but he is down to just 100 and more are expected to leave when their permits expire in June.

“All my workers are Indonesian and some will be applying to go on leave in May for Hari Raya,” he said.

Struggling to cope, Hong has had to abandon parts of his fruit farms in Kota Tinggi, Kluang and Pulai.

Lim Boon Hean, from the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Fruit Farmers Association, said papaya, which used to cost RM2 per kg, now cost up to RM3.50 while a 400g packet of jackfruit was being sold for RM9.90, compared to RM6 previously.

He added that guava, formerly RM4.50 per kg, was now RM6, while watermelon went up from RM2.50 to RM4 per kg.

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