Farmers thriving in the heatwave

Veggies on the cheap: Gayathiri showing the vegetables that have drastically gone down in price at her vegetable stall at the Batu Lanchang market in George Town, Penang. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

Vegetable and fish vendors are enjoying great yield with prolonged dry spell

GEORGE TOWN: Amidst the scorching heatwave, while most people are feeling the burn, local vegetable and fish farmers are thriving under the sun.Instead of withering crops and dwindling supplies, the prolonged dry spell is actually boosting their yields.

At the bustling wet markets, vendors are all smiles as they enjoy stable or even dropping prices from wholesalers.

Batu Lanchang market vegetable seller S. Gayathiri, 32, said, “Cheaper vegetables means better income for us and the chance to offer attractive prices to customers.

“When it is expensive, demand drops and when customers buy less, we have total loss when the vegetables spoil.

“Now things are good although some people are still unaware that vegetables are cheap.”

She said tomatoes used to be RM8 per kg during the Chinese New Year stretch, but now it is half the price (RM4).

“Chilli was RM20 to RM22 per kg; they are now RM14.

“Cucumbers and sawi (choy sum) are both RM4 per kg now. Before, they were RM6 per kg,” she said.

Federation of Vegetables Sellers Associations’ president Lee Kha Shiuann said instead of badly affecting crops, the plentiful sunlight helps crops grow at their best.

“Farmers know how to irrigate and supply water to the fields. If there was an all-out drought and farmers find it hard to find water, then it will be a different story.

“However, now the yield is great and nationwide, locally-grown vegetables are cheap,” he said, adding that in the absence of rain, pests like aphids and mealy bugs also do not do well and that adds to the tonnages of each harvest.

On the seafood front, fishmonger Ong Chong Way, 37, who has been in the business for 21 years, said there was an ample supply of all types of local fish, squid and prawns sourced from nearby farms and fishermen.

“The prices are stable and have been the same for a while as there is plenty of supply, especially now that Chinese New Year has passed.

“Fish, especially barramundi (siakap), is RM10 or RM11 each. We are selling squid at RM18 for 500g and prawns between RM18 and RM35 for 500g depending on the sizes and species,” he said, adding that fishmongers did not expect prices to go up for some months yet.

For fish farmers, the heatwave is a delight especially for the 100-odd floating fish farms visible to the left of the second Penang bridge as one drives towards Penang island.

These fish farmers collectively breed more than 40,000 tonnes of saltwater fish a year and their fish go to nearly every market, supermarket and seafood restaurant in the peninsula.

Sungai Udang Caged Fish Farmers Association chairman Tioh Tiang Lai said the hotter the weather, the better it is for the fish farmers.

“When there are storms, we have sleepless nights because we fear the turbulent sea may damage the cages and in the morning we have to contend with the gunk that flows out of rivers and towards our floating farms.

“The rubbish and mud wash-off will irritate the fish and clog up the netting of the cages, disrupting the flow of water through them,” he said.

“The heat is great for us especially during March and April. In January and February, the tides were low, which reduced the oxygen for the fish but now, it will be fine,” he added.

Tioh said they farm warm-water fish which inhabit shallower, warmer waters and the fish stock is thriving in the current climate.

He added the 110 fish farmers here only catered to the local market so it is expected that prices will remain the same and there will be ample supply for the time being.

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