As 2016 begins, the rising price of most vegetables is undoubtedly a pressing concern among most consumers. The last few months of 2015 saw the prices of many vegetables rise in alarming fashion. The sharp increase in prices was due to unseasonal rains and cold weather.

According to the National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection (NMCRP), the price of 250 grams of most vegetables hit Rs.100 mark after Christmas. The increase in the price of Green Chilies was most noteworthy, with 100 grams of the vegetable selling at Rs.140. However, when Nation visited Manning Market in Pettah last Wednesday (30), prices seemed to have reduced. The Green Chilies, which was being sold at a wholesale price of Rs.1,100 earlier, was now being sold at around Rs.750-800.

Retail prices of vegetables though, were yet to reduce significantly. According to the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute, retail prices of vegetables continued to remain high.

“Compared to the same period of 2014, current prices of most of the vegetable varieties have increased with the highest price increase of 42% reported for beans,” the institute noted in its last bulletin in December.

Such an increase was having a severe negative impact on many aspects of consumers’ lives, claimed National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection (NMCRP) President, Ranjith Withanage.

Withanage pointed out that world crude oil prices had come down considerably in the past few weeks. This benefit was yet to be transferred to the consumers. “As such, what we are asking the government to do is to reduce the price of diesel so as to cut down on transport costs, which would assist in reducing these prices.”

“There is a general increase in vegetable prices from November through January due to the rainy weather conditions that prevail during these months. There is no significant increase in demand, but the supply is low, hence the high prices,” Research Officer and Head of the Marketing Food Policy and Agri-Business Division (MFPA) of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute, WHD Priyadarshana,  explained.

However, he said prices were expected to come down after the third week of January, as the weather tends to improve by this time.

Priyadarshana said a portion of vegetables that are sent for wholesale are inferior in quality due to them being affected by the weather, leading them to be thrown away. So, the quantity that actually reaches the consumer is even less. Also, this is the intervening period between the ‘Yala’ and ‘Maha’ seasons. Crops from the Yala season are harvested from September through October while crops for the Maha Season are planted from November. “As such, what we tend to get during this time is mostly short-term crops.”

Priyadarshana however, pointed out that the prices of several subsidiary food crops had been reduced through the budget in a bid to offset the impact of the price increases while also imposing a maximum retail price for several consumer goods. Accordingly, there is now a maximum retail price in place for items such as dhal, sprats and dried fish, while prices of potatoes and onions have also been reduced.

However, Withanage from the consumer rights movement argued that consuming subsidiary crops would not bring the same health benefits to people. “You won’t get the same nourishment of green vegetables by eating dried fish,” he said, adding that he hoped President Maithripala Sirisena would intervene to reduce the burden on the consumers.