Costly food for thought
Thursday, 10 May 2012 11:10 GMT
Zhang Shaode could not believe the price of cabbage, the staple vegetable on Chinese dinner tables. The 76-year-old, who lives in Taiyanggong in Beijing's Chaoyang district, checked the price with the saleswoman three times because he didn't believe that the vegetable could cost as much as 4 yuan (63 cents) per kilogram.
In a bid to find a cabbage to satisfy the pensioner's needs, the saleswoman showed him all the available produce and Zhang finally chose one weighing 1.5 kg. He was still reluctant to pay, however, and murmured: "If I bought a larger one, the extra money I spent would be enough to buy half a kilo of pork. Last autumn cabbage was only about 0.3 yuan per kg." The saleswoman has become familiar with this reaction to the soaring price of vegetables, where even young people, with little experience of inflation, have been raising an eyebrow.
In May, the weather begins to get warmer and it's harvest time for most farmers. The increased supply generally results in prices declining daily. However this year, May was different, because the prices of a whole range of common vegetables have risen markedly.
Pensioners such as Zhang, and those on low incomes, aren't the only ones affected by the rise. Many people have complained that they can no longer afford to buy large quantities of vegetables.
Statistics from Xinhua News Agency, which monitors national vegetable prices, show that on May 2, the price of cabbage had risen by 96.6 percent from the same month a year earlier. The price of radishes increased by 75.7 percent over the same period, while tomatoes registered an increase of 49.2 percent, a record high in recent years.
Meanwhile, data from the Beijing-based www.xinfadi.com.cn, the capital's largest wholesaler of agricultural products, show that on May 8 the wholesale price of cabbage was 2.3 yuan per kg, twice the asking price in April.
The situation has become a national phenomenon. According to statistics provided by the agricultural information platform 21food.cn, the wholesale price of cabbage over the past week has been 2 to 3 yuan per kg. In some cities in Zhejiang province, the price is more than 4 yuan, a massive rise from six months ago, when it was just 0.6 to 0.8 yuan per kg.
"Oversupply meant that the price of cabbage was extremely low during the winter and some rotted in the fields because no one wanted to buy them. Many farmers suffered substantial losses, so they lost confidence in cabbage and began to grow other vegetables, which has resulted in severe shortages this year," said Zhang Yumei, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
"Last year, after we conducted research in the regions where cabbage sales were most sluggish, we suggested that the related (government) departments and vegetable sellers should store cabbages over the winter months to avoid sharp price rises this year, but sadly, no one took up our suggestion," said Zhang.
Meanwhile, a long winter, low temperatures in the main vegetable-producing areas in March and April, and crop diseases and insect damage have exacerbated the shortfall.
Qin Peipei, director of the business department at the Shouguang Shangqing Agricultural Specialized Cooperative said the low temperatures resulted in poor crop yields. Moreover, the prices charged by the producers have also increased. Cabbage, for example, has risen to 1.4 yuan or 1.5 yuan per kg, twice the price of the same period last year.
And it's not only cabbage, other vegetables have also been affected.
"Usually by May, eggplants, cultivated in plastic shelters, are already ripe. But this year, only a small proportion have ripened, and they're small," according to Zhang Xueshan, a farmer from Cangshan county in Shandong province.
The increasing cost of labor has also been one of the main factors pushing up prices, he said. "The labor shortage has become a serious problem and affects many industries."