Dry spells trouble

The prolonged dry spell is creating a dwindling supply situation for vegetable sellers here.

Their supplies are costing more and most sellers have absorbed the additional cost, but they are warning that they cannot do it much longer and will have to increase their prices.

Mr Law Song Nam, the vice-chairman of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association, said he expects the prices of vegetables "like bok choy, kai lan and watercress to go up for us by 10 per cent" this week.

The dry spell has hit Kota Tinggi hard. This is where most of the vegetables imported from Johor are grown, said the 66-year-old.

The authorities in Malaysia have also begun rationing water in Selangor, Malaysia's most populous state, as the dry spell continues to deplete reservoirs.

The situation is affecting sellers on both sides of the Causeway.

"There are no red chillies, bitter gourds and long beans... there's just no stock," said Mr Ng Poh Xiong, 24, a vegetable stallholder in Johor Baru.

In Singapore, vegetable sellers at the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market last week said they have also been affected.

Said a vegetable seller in his 60s who did not want to be named: "Supplies actually started decreasing one to two weeks ago, but it only became quite serious since Wednesday."

He said supply has gone down "by 20 to 30 per cent and prices have gone up".

Losses

He has not passed on the increase to customers, but said it will be hard to sustain the losses.

Another seller, who has 30 years of experience, said she imports all her vegetables from Malaysia and that prices have gone up by 10 cents to 40 cents, depending on the type of vegetable.

The seller, who did not want to be named, said the prices of those items running low in stock in Malaysia, such as red chilli, have gone up the most.

"The price of red chillies have gone up 40 cents because there is not enough water," she told The New Paper in Mandarin.

"I cannot raise the prices, customers won't buy if they (the vegetables) are too expensive. They would rather buy from supermarkets.

"I have been in the business for many years...it (the wholesale centre) used to be bustling with people, now there are few customers."

Prices in supermarket chains like FairPrice and Sheng Siong have remained constant over the week, said their respective spokesmen.

But Sheng Siong's spokesman added that it saw a 12 per cent increase in the prices of bitter gourds and long beans from Malaysia.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said it is monitoring the situation in Malaysia closely.

Farms

Local farmers are also feeling the effects.

"Some of my vegetables are not growing well due to the dry weather... in a month they may be problematic, and I won't be able to sell them," said Mr Wong Kok Fah, 52, the owner of Kok Fah Technology Farm.

At his farm, large amounts of soil are dug up from the ground to create rainwater catchments. Rainwater collected is used to water vegetables.

Mr Wong, who has more than 30 years of experience in the sector, said he has seen his share of dry spells, but this is the worst by far.

This is the first time his rainwater catchment levels have gone below the halfway mark, which he said is "very dangerous" as he relies solely on rainwater.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), just 75.4mm of rain in January and 0.2mm last month (to Feb 25) was recorded at NEA's Changi climate station, compared to the long-term averages of 242.4mm and 161mm, respectively.

Mr Wong said the remaining rainwater will last him another two weeks to one month.

"I hope the rain comes soon," he said.


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