Vegetable prices surge as COVID-19 halts imports

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Vegetable prices seemed to be steady compared to meat prices despite growing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has escalated considerably over the past weeks.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the price of potato had surged to 2,000 MNT per kilogram, costing the same as carrots, which usually are pricier, at large markets and trade centers. A kilogram of onion now costs 1,500 to 1,800 MNT, cabbage costs 2,500 to 3,000 MNT, beetroots cost 6,000 MNT and garlic costs 2,000 MNT to 2,500 MNT on average. Bell peppers were sold for 5,000 to 5,500 MNT per kilogram, garlic for 18,000 MNT, cucumber for 8,000 to 9,000 MNT per kilogram, and small tomatoes for 8,000 MNT per kilogram.

According to the National Statistics Office, the price of a kilogram of potato averaged 1,054 MNT, carrots 1,658 MNT, onion 1,340 MNT and cabbage 2,449 MNT in June 2019. This shows that the price of potato has almost doubled year-on-year, while the price of carrots increased by over 300 MNT and onion by 160 MNT. The price of cabbage has remained relatively steady over the past year.

The latest weekly reports shows that the price of potato rose by 0.8 percent and beetroots by 5 percent in the past week. However, in reality, vegetable prices have risen by at least 500 to 1,000 MNT per kilogram, or by 50 to 70 percent, in just a week’s time at large markets. At Bumbugur Trade Center, potato price spiked by almost 700 MNT per kilogram, beetroots by 500 to 1,000 MNT, and cabbage by around 500 MNT compared to last week’s prices.

Vegetable traders reasoned that they are running out of supplies, which were mostly harvested last fall. They added that the demand for vegetables and fruits rise in summer due to increasing number of people traveling to the countryside and opt to buy “lighter food” as opposed to heavy food such as meat due to the heat.

Another vendor said, “Vegetable prices reach a peak during this time of the year. The quantity of products in storages decrease even though the demand peaks. As the wholesale prices have been increased, we have no choice but to raise retail prices. Since locals are now interested in buying domestically produced vegetables, we’re reducing sales of imported goods. This might have lowered supplies.”

Mongolia is able to fully satisfy its potato demand domestically and 40 to 50 percent of vegetable demand. The country buys more than half of its consumption of vegetables such as cucumbers, avocado and tomatoes from around 10 countries, including Russia, China, South Korea and Kazakhstan. Last year, Mongolian farmers collected 161,000 tons of potato and more than 93,000 tons of vegetables, boosting annual supplies by up to 15 percent. The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry has also approved policies aimed to raise customs duties on imported vegetable products and support local farmers. However, many people are blaming these policies for causing considerable spike in vegetable in a short span of time.

When asked about this, Head of Agricultural Policy Implementation and Coordination Department at the ministry Ts.Bolorchuluun said, “There are some people who think that we’ve completely stopped vegetable imports and heightened customs duties. But the decision hasn’t been made yet. The quarantine regime, however, might have lowered imports of some products. I’m not sure how it specifically affected vegetable supplies.”

He continued, “Mongolia’s extreme climate allows us to collect harvest only once a year. It is standard for vegetable prices to surge one or two months prior to collection of new crops. This might be the case right now and demand still remains high. In general, prices spike when supplies drop and we can’t control this market trend.”

The ministry anticipates vegetable prices to remain stable next year since plantation fields have been expanded by 20 percent and sufficient storages are available.

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan

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