Gap in vegetable supply chain puts Cameron Highlands farmers in overdrive before CNY

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CAMERON HIGHLANDS: His shoulders and knees were aching, but Mr Ooi In Kun still managed a wry smile as he plucked scallions from the ground.

His breathing was fast and he was perspiring, despite the cool 22 degrees Celsius temperature.

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The 60-year-old, who operates a small farm outside his wooden house in Habu, Cameron Highlands, was rushing to pack a shipment of vegetables that would be sent to Singapore that same evening.

“We are rushing a bit because people are starting to prepare for Chinese New Year, we have requests for more quantity,” said Mr Ooi in Malay.

Mr Ooi, like many farmers in Cameron Highlands, are stepping up efforts to meet high demand in the lead up to the Chinese New Year period, especially from Singapore. Prices of vegetables are expected to increase due to a gap in the supply chain.

Mr Ooi In Kun does not have any plastic shelter for his crops, making them vulnerable to poor weather conditions. (Photo: Amir Yusof)

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However, the spike in demand has placed a strain on some farmers like Mr Ooi, who has no employees and operates the entire farm with just his wife.

"I have been here (operating this farm) for 28 years but recently the laborious work is getting to me,” added the man of Hokkien descent, who moved to Habu from Sungai Petani, Kedah in the 1990s.

He added: "We have to work hard and work smart. Of course, no such thing as holidays. We will work through Chinese New Year because there will still be shipment requests to meet”.

PRICE TO INCREASE AS CONSUMERS STOCK UP ON PRODUCE: MAJOR SUPPLIER

Those in the industry expect vegetable prices to rise in the coming days.

“As we get closer to CNY, a lot of people are on holiday. Some of our suppliers from China and Malaysia are on holiday, so theres a gap in the supply chain," said Mr Kelvin Chye, managing director of Thygrace Marketing, a major vegetable distributor in Singapore.

"We have arranged suppliers to send, but theres just no stock.”

This supply disruption also means that certain types of vegetables may not be available over the festive period, Mr Chye added.

Thygrace Marketing distributes vegetables to major supermarket chains in Singapore. Vegetables from Cameron Highlands are an important part of its supply chain.

The vegetables are loaded on cars before they are brought to the depot to be placed on trucks for transportation. (Photo: Fadza Ishak)

Specifically, the demand for vegetables is expected to spike in the last two days before Chinese New Year on Jan 25, he said.

“Vegetables cant be stored for too long, so customers will wait until the last minute because theres this fear that shops will be closed during the festivities and there will be no more stock,” he noted.

“Whatever they need, they will go and grab. If theres a shortage, the price will increase. This is true especially for wet markets,” he said.

Despite most supermarket chains announcing that they will remain open throughout the festive period, consumers are still concerned about a potential shortage, Mr Chye added.

READ: 114 FairPrice stores to remain open on first day of Chinese New Year

Farmers in Cameron Highlands interviewed by CNA said that the Chinese New Year period requires careful planning and strategising.

Cabbages are considered durable and hence a popular item during the Chinese New Year period. (Photo: Amir Yusof)

Mr Fung Chee Siang, an organic farmer who operates Hatiku Agrikultur in Ringlet, said he will harvest the vegetables that are durable and more popular during Chinese New Year like cabbages.

Mr Fung Chee Siang is a strong proponent of organic farming. He does not believe in using pesticides or chemicals at his farm. (Photo: Fadza Ishak)

If Chinese New Year falls on a Sunday, the vegetables will be shipped one week in advance, so that they can hit the shelves by Thursday or Friday, he explained.

“There is a lot of of preparation involved.," said Mr Fung.

READ: 48 hours on the road: Life of a Malaysian trucker who delivers vegetables to Singapore

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