Vegetable prices skyrocket as rains dampen cultivation

By Damith Wickremasekara

Vegetable prices skyrocketed this week with production in most parts of the country affected by the rains, with warnings that the situation may continue till the April new year season.

Market surveys by a team of reporters of the Sunday Times, in Colombo as well as in the outstations, revealed that prices have increased more than 50%, compared with the average prices in the past three months.

Vegetables at a price Pic by Sanka Vidanagama

In Nuwara Eliya, one of the main vegetable cultivation areas, Agricutural officers warned of a 50% drop in production in the next three months, indicating that the prices of some of the popular vegetables such as Beans, Leeks, Carrot, Beetroot, Cabbage would increase.

In Colombo, retailers too forecast the same scenario. “The current prices are the highest we have experienced in more than 15 years”, V.G. Ranjan, a vegetable trader in Maradana, who has been in the trade since 1971, told the Sunday Times.

He said that since prices increased, most customers purchase reduced quantities.“Nobody purchases more than 500 grams per item, while earlier they purchased up to a kilogram. This is because most vegetables are over Rs 100 per kilogram, and people cannot afford it”, he said. At the Manning Market in Pettah, where wholesale and retail trading of vegetables take place, prices have shown a dramatic increase this week.

Secretary- ‘Podu Velenda Sangamaya’, Gamini Handunge told the Sunday Times that supply from the upcountry market had dropped by about 40% during the past week, resulting in a sudden price increase.

“What we hear is that a number of areas where vegetables are grown are under water, and in some instances they have been spoiled. The problem cannot be solved easily in the next few months”, he said.

He said that the government would not be able to solve the problem by getting the army to sell vegetables, as the problem is a shortfall in supplies. Though the prices were lower than as the Economic Centre at Narahenpita, almost all vegetables were higher than Rs 100 per kilogram.
H.M. Chaminda, a trader at the Economic Centre said that most of the vegetables which reached them were rotten on arrival, as they had been affected by the weather.

“Vegetable transporters do not want to bring vegetables to Colombo, for fear of being rejected on arrival here”, he said. Though Government has offered assistance to the paddy farmers, it has yet to offer relief to the vegetable farmers.

Delkanda pola traders ‘outgunned’ by the Army

The weekly pola at Delkanda, along High Level road, attracts customers from the greater Colombo area. The reason- most of the vegetable/fruits offered for sale are homegrown and brought to the pola by the villagers.

Delkanda pola traders await customers
Army sales personnel busy with customers. Pix by Sanjeewa Niroshana

Before the crack of dawn, they line up in areas such as Avissawella, Padukka, Homagama and Maharagama to transport their produce in lorries passing by. End of the day, they dispose of leftover items at ‘knockdown’ prices before returning home.

But, last Sunday, they were in for a rude shock when they turned up. They found five Army trucks selling vegetables at prices less than what they could offer.

“We had low sales last Sunday because the Army trucks moved in and started doing our job. It is true they offered lower prices, but unlike us, they didn’t have to pay for transport”, P.M. Ratnaweera, a trader said.

He said that the vendors at the pola usually go to villages to collect produce to be sold in addition to what they cultivate.

According to him, it is an arduous ‘errand’ to collect items from villages and transport them to the pola.
Last Sunday, most traders returned home with their items unsold, as customers purchased from the Army trucks.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Ubaya Madawala responding to the situation, confirmed that the Army would continue with its sales at the Delkanda weekly pola.

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