Malaysian greens pricier now at wet markets here

A shopper bargains with a vegetable seller at a wet market in Singapore.
A shopper bargains with a vegetable seller at a wet market in Singapore. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Consumers may find themselves shelling out more for fruits and vegetables from Malaysia at wet markets here.

The haze and the impending year-end monsoon season have driven up the prices of the produce by more than 20 per cent at some stalls.

The weak ringgit has also added to the cost pressure as Malaysian farmers buy raw materials from overseas.

At a fruit stall in Yishun, owner Ho Koon Wah, 50, sold bananas from Malaysia at $2 per kg yesterday, up by about 50 cents from a month before.

At a Toa Payoh wet market stall, 1kg of spinach from Malaysia cost $2.50, up from $2 last month, said a stallholder who wanted to be known only as Madam Lim, 60.

The air quality in Malaysia reached hazardous levels earlier this week while the Malaysian ringgit fell to its lowest levels since 1998 against the United States dollar on Sept 29.

Haze particles prevent sunlight from reaching plants, causing lower yield and supply, and consequently higher prices, said Mr Tan Chin Hian, vice-chairman of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association.

Farmers in Malaysia buy their raw materials, such as seeds and fertilisers, from other countries, so the weak ringgit pushes up the cost price, said Mr Desmond Bernavey Lee, director of fruits and vegetables wholesaler FreshDirect.

He added that prices usually increase during the year-end monsoon season, as the rains would cause vegetables to rot faster and flowers to wilt.

At his Pasir Panjang stall, 1kg of coriander has risen by 50 per cent from a month ago to about $15, while a watermelon now costs $1.30 per kg, up from $1 per kg.

At wholesaler Nishen Tropical Fruits, prices have remained unchanged.

"For now, there's still supply from Malaysia, but in two months' time, we could run into problems for bigger fruits like the pomelo and watermelon," said its managing director Sunny Ng.

He added: "So next Chinese New Year, the pomelo will probably be more expensive."

Last year, Singapore imported 231,000 tonnes of vegetables from Malaysia, which made up 42 per cent of total vegetable supply, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

Other sources include China, India and Australia.

The good news is that the prices of chicken and eggs from Malaysia have remained stable, because the chickens are kept in closed coops and are not affected by the haze, said Mr Joseph Heng, former president of the Poultry Merchants Association of Singapore, which is in the midst of electing a new head.

Singapore imported 68,400 tonnes of chicken and 1.28 billion eggs from Malaysia last year.

Supermarket chains FairPrice and Sheng Siong said the prices of vegetables, fruits, poultry and eggs from Malaysia and rice from Vietnam and Thailand have remained relatively stable at their stores.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'Malaysian greens pricier now at wet markets here'. Print Edition | Subscribe