By Elias Tan
It is not just the Chinese New Year goodies that are getting expensive. The price hike is also on mandarin oranges.
With exactly two weeks to go before Chinese New Year, prices for mandarin oranges are rising steadily. Some stalls, especially those in the heartlands, are swamped with people trying to snap up mandarin oranges.
It is difficult to quantify the exact increase for mandarin oranges during the festive season. For now, the price of a mandarin orange has gone up by 10 cents from 50 cents last year. In supermarket chains like Giant, a carton of 30 lukan mandarin oranges retails at S$20.90.
While this is mainly due to large purchases of mandarin oranges from China by other countries since the ’80s, natural disasters, poor education among Chinese farmers, insufficient crop protection and labour shortage in Chinese farms are other reasons for the citrus shortage. Back in 1988, it was reported that in neighbouring Malaysia, foreign purchases resulted in a shortage of mandarin oranges in China.
Almost 90 per cent of Singapore’s oranges comes from China, so when the Chinese crop suffers, the price pinch can be felt across the Southeast Asia.
The orange groves started yielding smaller crops in recent years, when severe drought and floods destroyed orange groves.
In 2009, severe drought in the northern Chinese region jacked up prices for mandarins. “The Chinese market is very fragmented and a lot of oranges are supplied by many smaller farmers,” said Asian Citrus Holdings director, Eric Sung during an interview with Bloomberg News.
The following year in southern China, severe climate change resulted in a phenomenon that is known as “spring drought” which significantly reduced overall crop yield. It also reduced winter yield by 10.8 per cent from 2009. Drought was soon replaced by the sudden onslaught of rain, again hitting agricultural production.
Li Zhang, a researcher with the Centre for Earth Observation and Digital Earth, said that the drought brought about large water deficits as “it occurred at the same time as higher air temperatures”.
“Higher air temperatures increased evaporation and further exacerbated the water shortage…”
According to a 2013 Guardian report on global warming, climate change and crop yield, China’s National Academy of Agricultural Sciences expected basic food supplies to become insufficient by 2030.
It seems that China is persistently plagued by either temperamental weather, or a menopausal one. The following year – in 2011 – drought again lifted food prices worldwide.
In the meantime, vendors will have to look for alternatives to increase stocks. The longer term solution is to import oranges from other Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand, which are more expensive.
One fruit vendor who declined to be named told The Independent Singapore that he will not consider importing mandarin oranges from Taiwan. “That’s too expensive. I’ll stick to importing them from China instead.”
Let’s hope the price of mandarins does not reach the extent of “gold”, which is what it is known in Cantonese.