CAMERON HIGHLANDS: It is difficult to keep vegetable prices low due to several factors, said farmers and transporters.
Cameron Highlands Vegetable Growers Association secretary Chay Ee Mong said this was because almost 90 per cent of things that farmers must spend on, such as pesticide, fertiliser and seedlings, were imported.
Citing fertiliser as an example, Chay said its price increased from RM2,000 to RM2,700 per tonne last year.
“The problem is worsened by the weak ringgit.”
He said consumers argue that the drop in petrol price should translate to lower prices for vegetables, but farmers, too, had to pay the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
He said authorities could consider offering incentives to farmers mitigate the rising costs.
“For example, the government can waive GST on pesticide, fertiliser and seedlings.”
Chay said the prices of greens were determined by market forces and not by farmers.
“Supply and demand plays a big role in determining the prices,” he said, adding that other factors, such as weather, also impacted prices.
Chay told the New Straits Times that every time a farmer delivered his produce, he only knew an indicative price for it.
“Normally, the final price is not too far from the indicative price.”
He said vegetable prices would usually drop when there was a glut.
“For instance, there is a glut of choy sum in the market due to good weather in the lowlands,” he said, adding that some farmers were resorting to destroying choy sum rather than sending it to markets as its low price meant that it was not cost efficient to do so.
Chay said Cameron Highlands farmers sent 50 per cent of their produce to the Selayang Wholesale Market and the rest to Ipoh (20 per cent), Singapore (20 per cent) and other places (10 per cent).
Echoing Chay’s sentiment, transporter Kwang Ting Woon, who sends vegetables from Cameron Highlands to the lowlands, said transport companies had no means to keep operating costs low.
He said increases in prices were a recurring problem.
“There are times when the prices of vegetables go up and other times, they are down, like now,” said Kwang, who is also a tomato farmer.
To save costs, Kwang said, transporters would pick up items from the lowlands and send them to Cameron Highlands.
“Our lorries are never empty. They go to the lowlands full of vegetables and come up filled with items farmers and villagers here need.”
Kwang said among the fixed costs that transporters had to pay monthly were drivers’ salaries, diesel, lorry spare parts and insurance.
“The rate now is between 10 sen and 13 sen for every kg of vegetables sent,” he said, adding that drivers were paid RM200 per trip to Kuala Lumpur.
He said it would be a relief for transporters if the government could provide tax incentives and allow toll-free transport for vehicles ferrying food items.
“We do not have time to do our taxes. We are too busy making ends meet. If the government does not help us, who can we turn to?”