Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Consumers told to brace for higher fruit, vegetable prices as Christmas approaches

Published:Wednesday | November 25, 2020 | 12:12 AMKarena Bennett/Business Reporter
A food basket on display.
A food basket on display.

Severe weather conditions over the past month along with challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic has caused vegetable prices across Jamaica to rise by an average 50 per cent in one week, November 14 to 21.

Xavier Charvis, marketing officer at Rural Agricultural Development Authority, RADA, is advising consumers to brace for further increases in the price of both fruits and vegetables in the upcoming festive season.

Prices on produce ranged from $80 to $575 per pound as at November 21, but the largest increases were seen among vegetables, such as cabbage, romaine lettuce, sweet pepper, pak choi and string beans, according to data from the Jamaica Agricultural Market Information Systems, or JAMIS.

Conversely, prices of most fruits trended downward over the week ending November 21, including watermelon, cantaloupe, sorrel and papaya.

Green banana was the only produce that had its price unchanged week over week.

The magnitude of the increases that prevailed in mid-November was in the order of 20 per cent to 80 per cent, as follows:

• Local green cabbage: $90 up 80%

• Romaine lettuce: $575 up 53.3%

• Pak Choi: $80 up 60%

• String bean: $24 up 56%

• Sweet pepper (local): $333.33 up 66%

• Tomatoes (plummy): $250 up 25%

• Tomatoes (salad): $325 up 39%

• Carrot: $197.59 up $31.7%

• Watermelon: $86.67 up 57%

• Pumpkin: $30 down 40%

• Sorrel: $150 down 20%

• Green banana: $35 unchanged

Vegetables broccoli, cauliflower, okra and pumpkin were the only goods that recorded a decline in the prices over the week in review. The sharpest declines came from pumpkin, down 40 per cent to $30 per pound; and cauliflower, down 13.2 per cent to fetch at $195.08.

“We got about six weeks of continuous rainfall over the past two months and that has affected production significantly, more so vegetables. Vegetables are now considered scarce, as a result there is a significant price increase and it may continue for selected crops into December for three-month crops like sweet pepper and carrot,” Charvis told the Financial Gleaner.

Prices for six-week crops such as lettuce, string bean and cucumber are expected to get back to normal levels faster.

“What usually happens after farmers lose significant production, they usually go for the quickest thing to recover some funds so most farmers would plant the six-week crops to recover quickly and then move into three-month crop,” the marketing officer said.

Expectations are that fruit and vegetable prices could hit peak price over the next four weeks when demand heightens during the Christmas rush. Data from JAMIS shows that the highest price customers were willing to pay per pound for vegetables were: cabbage $160, carrot $350, lettuce $700, string bean $504, pak choi $120, and tomato $400.

“Definitely for the festive season we will see price increases because demand will go up. It might result in the importation of some of these produce, so that it will balance out significant price increases,” said Charvis.

“We find that the price of crops usually go to maximum point, but whereas the hoteliers and some retailers will buy produce at certain prices, the typical housewife just won’t buy beyond a certain price point,” Charvis said.

RADA will consult extension officers on expected produce numbers and the timing for crop yield, and based on their feedback, the agricultural agency will hold discussions with farmers and the Ministry of Agriculture on the levels of importation of specific produce that might be required to satisfy anticipated demand.