Malaysia vegetable prices set to rise further in Singapore as high temperatures hit supplies

Jerry Tan, Assistant Secretary of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association, expects supplies of leafy vegetables to fall as farmers across the border grapple with sizzling temperatures.
Lim Jia Qi Today Online 26 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: As Malaysia continues to grapple with hot and dry weather, the price of Malaysian greens imported into Singapore looks set to increase further.

Mr Jerry Tan, Assistant Secretary of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association, expects prices to go up as the supply of leafy vegetables from Malaysia could drop by about 30 per cent in the coming weeks.

Prices have already been increasing as farmers across the Causeway grapple with the challenging conditions, with temperatures in some places exceeding 37 degrees Celsius. In Singapore, the wholesale cost of vegetables such as chye sim and spinach has doubled since last month and the price of xiao bai cai has increased by half since two weeks ago, said Mr Tan.

"The reasons are because of the hot weather, which is causing those plants not to grow. Production is dropping and demand is going up," he added.

As a result, the rise in import prices is in many cases being passed on to consumers in Singapore. This was reflected in the most recent inflation data, which showed food inflation rose to 2.2 per cent in March from 2 per cent in February. The statement from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) yesterday (Apr 25) said that higher food prices were partly due to weather-related supply disruptions in neighbouring countries.

At a wet market stall in Teck Whye Lane, the price of chye sim imported from Malaysia has increased to around S$2 per kilogram, up from S$1.50 last month. The price of Malaysian-grown spinach has also gone up from S$4.50 per kilogram to S$5.

This is having an impact on consumer demand, according to stall owner Gary Lian, who said that earnings have since dropped by about 20 per cent a day as consumers baulk at the higher prices.

"Every year is like that, when the weather is bad. We started to increase the price two to three weeks ago, we have to cover the cost price."

Sheng Fa, a wet market stall at Ayer Rajah Food Centre and Market, is also starting to feel the pinch. The price of Malaysian-grown xiao bai cai doubled from S$1.30 per kilogram last month to the current S$2.60.

"The supplier told us there are not enough vegetables because the weather is very hot. Our earnings have dropped but we are not suffering a loss," said Mdm Tang, who is the stall assistant.

Supermarket chains seem less affected by the price hike. Prices of vegetables from Malaysia at NTUC FairPrice have remained stable because it uses contract farming, according to Mr Victor Chai, director of fresh and frozen products at its purchasing and merchandising department.

"(Contract farming) supports a stable supply of goods and helps moderate pricing. With contract farming, FairPrice is less vulnerable to sudden price changes due to shortages, for example, caused by the weather in the market. At the same time, contract farming enables us to ensure stronger quality and safety control," said Mr Chai in a statement to Channel NewsAsia.

"We diversify our sources for products so that we can ensure a stable supply and cushion shoppers from price shocks," added Mr Chai.

While prices are going up, some consumers say they have no choice but to absorb the higher cost.

"If it's an additional dollar a day, then it adds up. But we still have to eat. Maybe I just buy (less) vegetables," said housewife Mdm Chua Gek Lang, who was buying supplies at Teck Whye Lane.

"We can't control the weather, there's no choice we still have to eat," added 57-year-old Mdm Tan.

However, there may be some relief in sight, as Mr Tan said that prices of vegetables from China have been dropping and consumers will have greater variety of greens to choose from.

"The weather is getting better in the northern part of China and it's the best time of the production of the year. The volume they are producing is very large, that's why the prices have been coming down."

- CNA/jq

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