Crate law shoots up veggie prices, say traders

By Aanya Wipulasena

The enforcement of the law requiring the use of plastic crates in the transport of selected fruits and vegetables is pushing up prices while not contributing much to minimise damage caused to the produce, traders say.

Under the controversial law, which the authorities decided to enforce from Monday after having remained dormant for seven months, selected fruits and vegetables are required to be transported in plastic crates. This is to eliminate or minimise waste which according to Cooperative and Internal Trade Affairs Ministry officials is as high as 25 per cent.

Farmers send their produce in nylon sacks and it is the traders who have to repack them in plastic crates. Pic by Kanchana Kumara

President Mahinda Rajapaksa in December last year deferred the implementation of the law following protests by vegetable and fruit traders. Following talks between the President and trader representatives, a compromise deal was reached that only certain types of vegetables and fruits should be transported in plastic crates. They are carrots, tomatos, bell pepper cucumber, cabbage, salad leaves, oranges, guava, pears, papaya, mangosteen and strawberries.

Vegetable trader N. Kamal said the prices of vegetables had increased after the implementation of the new law. He said they could not make a profit without raising the price of vegetables because they had to spend a lot of money on plastic crates. “A plastic crate costs around Rs. 800 and we cannot afford to buy many crates,” he said.

Vegetable seller Sarath Kumara, who has a stall at the public market at Maradana, said that as a result of the enforcement of the law, the transport cost had gone up. Vegetables brought in nylon sacks required one lorry; The same amount brought in plastic crates requires three lorries, he said, adding that the traders had little option but to pass the burden on to the consumer.

Mr. Kumara, however, agreed that the use of plastic crates caused little damage to the produce and therefore the consumers got the best item for their money. Pettah fruit seller K, Murthi said his sales had dropped in recent weeks because of the high prices.

S. P. Chandrasiri, a retired soldier, said the prices of vegetables had gone up and he was finding it hard to afford them. “It is good to use plastic crates but the prices of food should not go up,” he said.

However, Trade Ministry Secretary Sunil S. Sirisena said he would not agree that the price hike was due to the enforcement of the law. The reason for the price hike was because of the scarcity of vegetables and fruits these days, he said.He said the use of plastic crates was profitable to traders and farmers. The vendor had to reduce the price to sell the damaged vegetables or fruits that had been supplied to him in nylon sacks. “Now they don’t have to suffer a loss. The vendors get good quality vegetables in crates from the farmers,” he said.

However, the Sunday Times understands that the law is being enforced from the midpoint in the supply chain.

Traders said farmers sent their produce in nylon bags and it was the traders who had to repack them in plastic crates before sending them to the market. The plastic crate law was being enforced to minimise waste during transport, but the fact that the law was not observed when the producer brought his goods to the trader had defeated the purpose, one trader said.

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