The prices of fresh vegetables on the dinning tables of many Chinese households have been pushed to record highs at the start of the year, driven by an usually cold winter and logistic deadlocks resulting from sporadic coronavirus outbreaks over the last few weeks.
Vegetable prices traditionally rise in January and February when the temperature drops and the supply is unable to catch up with increasing demand before the Lunar New Year holiday.
But on Monday, a daily wholesale price index of agricultural products developed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs surged to an all-time high of 139, having been first published at the end of 2016. The sub-index focusing only on vegetables rose even higher to 145, also setting a record.
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Among 28 types of vegetables monitored, including round cabbages, white radishes and onions, the average price surged to 6.2 yuan (96 US cents) per kg on Monday, the highest since the data was first available in the autumn of 2011.
The price of cauliflowers and cabbages rose more than 90 per cent last week compared to a year earlier, with the wholesale price of pork only increasing by 2 per cent during the same period.
“In the beginning of 2021, we had three cold waves. This type of cold and frosty weather has a big impact on the production and growth of vegetables, their maturity periods and yields. Some vegetables have frozen to death,” said Baishazhou Agricultural and Non-staple Products Marketplace, a major wholesale market in Hubei province on Friday.
“Even the vegetables growing in greenhouses may freeze badly, such as red cabbages and lettuces. The quality of a number of water spinach has dropped with declining supply.”
Even if the weather improves and temperature rebounds later, recovery of vegetable production needs more time, meaning vegetable prices will remain at a high level for a while
Baishazhou Agricultural and Non-staple Products Marketplace
In the landlocked province in central China, the average price of vegetables increased by more than 20 per cent to 5.52 yuan per kg from the beginning of the month, according to the marketplace.
“Even if the weather improves and temperature rebounds later, recovery of vegetable production needs more time, meaning vegetable prices will remain at a high level for a while,” it added.
Apart from cold weather, disrupted deliveries have become a key obstacle after several Chinese cities saw new outbreaks of the coronavirus, including lockdowns in the provinces of Hebei and Jilin.
The increased cost of transport from major areas of agricultural productions not only helped push up the price of vegetables but also eggs, said Teng Yujie, an agricultural commodity analyst from Myagric.
The average price of eggs tracked by Myagric started rising from the end of December and surged to a peak of 10.7 yuan (US$1.60) per kg a week ago, an increase of nearly 6 per cent from a year earlier, in Hebei province, a key production base of eggs.
“The lockdowns of the three cities in Hebei – Shijiazhuang, Xingtai, and Langfang, starting from January 12 – has put a certain pressure on the supply of eggs, and the transportation of eggs has been blocked and delayed,” Teng said.
“At the same time, the pandemic has exacerbated the panic among the people. The surging price of eggs led them to buy and hoard more eggs, leading to a short period of panic buying when the price was skyrocketing.”
In December, China’s headline consumer inflation recovered after dropping into negative territory in the previous month for the first time in 11 years.
China’s official consumer price index (CPI) rose to 0.2 per cent in December from a year earlier, from minus 0.5 per cent in November.
The improvement in CPI was led by food prices, which posted a rise of 1.2 per in December compared to a year earlier, a reversal from the 2.0 per cent decline in November.
The price of pork – a staple meat on Chinese dinner tables – rose 6.5 per cent in December compared to November, up from the decline of 6.5 per cent a month earlier. Compared to a year earlier, pork prices were still down 1.3 per cent in December, but this was a strong improvement from the 12.5 per cent drop in November.
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