Vegetable, poultry prices rising with haze

PHOTO: REUTERS, ST GRAPHICS

Millions of chickens dying, production of vegetables down by a third in Malaysian states

PETALING JAYA • Chickens are dying by the millions in a month, farm produce is dwindling, vegetables are wilting, and end consumers are set to be the biggest losers - all because of the haze.

Vegetable production in several states is down by a third, sending prices up by more than twofold. Farmers say that if the haze continues, prices will go even higher.

Fruit prices are also set to rise, with yields expected to shrink and fruit sizes likely to be smaller. Mr Omar Rohani, manager of Kulim Montel Farm, said the haze had affected the growth of new buds at its two banana farms in Johor.

As for livestock, Penang and Province Wellesley Farmers Association chairman Loo Choo Gee estimated that, on average, two to three million broiler chickens in the northern states of Penang, Kedah, Perlis and Perak die in a month because of the haze. Peninsular Malaysia produces 50 million chickens monthly.

"Chickens are more sensitive to the haze than humans. They have respiratory problems and become weak. We have to give them vitamins. When they are weak, they are slow to grow," said Mr Loo, who is also a farmer.

He said that during the haze, farmers need to increase the price of chicken by 10 sen to 20 sen per kilogramme from around RM4.50 to RM4.70 (S$1.50). "Many farmers try and keep alive the breeder chickens that are meant for culling so they can lay more eggs. But hens become weak during the haze and lay fewer eggs," he said.

In Johor, Lew Brothers Poultry Farm owner Lew Kim Huat said egg production at his two farms had declined by about 5 per cent since the start of the haze.

"Our hens are becoming restless and weak," he said, adding that about 28,000 of his 700,000 birds had died of suffocation, about twice the usual number of deaths.

Mr Lew said that normally, each bird would produce 25 eggs a month but for the past month, they produced between 15 and 20 eggs each.

Consumers also have to pay more for vegetables, with long beans at RM6 per kg costing twice or thrice the pre-haze prices of RM2 to RM3, in Kota Tinggi, Johor.

Wholesaler Tan Pak Looi warned that the price of chillies, now at RM6 per kg, is expected to rise in the next two to three months. The current batch of chillies grew well as they were planted and harvested before the haze, he said.

According to Dr Mohd Norowi Hamid, director of the Agrobiodiversity and Environment Research Centre at the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, the haze had reduced the photosynthesis rate because less sunlight reached the plants.

Penang Island Vegetable Wholesalers Association chairman Tan Ban Ben said the prices of certain vegetables had doubled because of the haze. "The weather has also affected the production of spring onion and celery, which have doubled in price," he said, adding that spring onion - which cost RM5 to RM6 per kg two weeks ago - now goes for RM12 at the wholesale price.

A vegetable supplier in Penang state capital George Town, Mr V. Raj, 47, said the wholesale prices of vegetables from Cameron Highlands had gone up by 50 per cent.

"Profits have also been cut by at least 20 per cent. Chinese broccoli (kailan) increased from RM2.50 to RM5, while Chinese cabbage rose to RM2.50 from RM1.20 and tomatoes from RM4 to RM6," he said.

Farmer Khor Tiam Seng, 38, from the Cameron Highlands, said vegetable production there had dropped by 10 per cent to 20 per cent. "I had to increase my prices in order to maintain profit. And it is the customers who will have to pay more."

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2015, with the headline 'Vegetable, poultry prices rising with haze'. Print Edition | Subscribe