Malaysia is currently seeing an unlikely surge in vegetable prices, to the point of memes and politicians even wanting to debate the motion on the topic.
And yet, the elephant in the room nobody is addressing is this – what is jacking up the price? Where is the inflation coming from?
Farmers were quick to sound out that they have not raised their prices even though hard pressed to do so with the rising costs of fertilisers due to scarcity and the affected supply chain due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
Oddly enough, seeing as how fertilisers were considered essential items to be shipped out and allowed in for transportation and logistics, this supply chain disruption seems awkward at best, downright sabotage at worst.
So if farmers are not hiking up the prices, who is?
The fault might lie in the middle men, but no middle men have either been interviewed or sounded out in a viral social media post just yet. Probably having a good high with the money they made from the price hike.
Has the logistics of shipping veggies in Malaysia also been impacted by a shortage of drivers akin to trying to get a Grabcar in Kuala Lumpur these days?
Because if so, then it is true as the Minister himself answered in parliament – e-commerce does have the potential to lower prices by cutting out the middle man from farm to fork.
Farmers and wholesalers have been quick to onboard e-commerce during the pandemic lockdowns. Shopee themselves mentioned having 170,000 new listings in their Fresh and Frozen foods segment in July.
As such, there is in fact a way to reduce cost, provided that consumers are willing to search, read reviews, and ultimately stop their hands from shaking to try and order from the e-commerce platform once, twice, and then so on until perhaps the seller decides to hike up the price and they go through the whole process all over again.
At the same time, using e-commerce platforms for buying up veggies would also assist on the Federal Agricultural Marketing Agency’s (FAMA’s) plan to push for their supporter farmers to head up online and digitise their business as a way to cater to either a local market or a national market, depending on the produce.
One of the ways that this can be further improved is if logistics companies, including those provided by e-commerce, are willing to invest in cold transport – meaning refrigerated trucks and containers which can then cater to even shipping across Sabah and Sarawak.
But putting that aside, should e-commerce invest in cold trucks, it would be enough to cater separately for local sellers on either the Peninsular or Borneo state sides to have a larger market to cater to.
Of course, government could surely play a role in supporting this move by either subsidising campaigns on e-commerce platforms, or just helping out on the logistics end to give a tax exemption.
So yes, the ministry is right in saying this is one way to counter the price hike, but Malaysians being the tactile “want to touch and feel before buying” mentality would need a leap of faith before taking this option seriously.