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When it rains, food prices dance

By Janelle De Souza Thursday, July 7 2011

In the June announcement of the repo rate, the Central Bank noted there was a fall in prices for fish (-6.7 percent) and vegetables (-2.5 percent) while there were increases in bread and cereals (0.6 percent) and meat (0.4 percent) in May.

Purchasers of several supermarket chains concurred, indicating lamb and imported chicken increased considerably in the month of May due to increased duties on imported meat and earlier in the year because of shortages.

However, they did not see a significant increase in meat prices during the month of June.

Suresh Narine at Something Fishy on George Street agreed there was a considerable increase in meat prices at the end of last year because of the floods in New Zealand and Australia. He noted a bucket of pigtail, which was previously $250, is now $400 while a case of salt fish increased from $750 to $900. The wholesale price of goat also increased to $19 per pound.

During the last week in June, vegetable prices also increased considerably. Leader of the Agricultural Society of TT, Dhano Sookoo noted there was a price decrease in May and June because of an increase in production on account of initiatives of the Ministry of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs and the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago.

“We have been putting in roads and opening up areas of production. However, with the weather, there are no quick fixes as we had irrigation issues and a few areas were flooded out,” said Sookoo.

“We are working along with the ministry to overcome these challenges and we will see continued fluctuation in prices until these issues have been dealt with.”

Vendors at the Chaguanas Market expressed frustration with the fluctuating prices but were resigned to the situation.

Tomato prices, especially, drastically increased over the past two weeks. Vendor Ramsaran Ramtahal said he believed recent heavy rains knocked the tomato flowers off the vines which meant less tomatoes on the market.

He said vendors also vary their prices according to “how sales go.” However, in general, in the Chaguanas market, the wholesale cost of small, medium and large tomatoes increased from $3, $4 and $5 to $7, $8 and $9 respectively.

Farmer Aloma Mungal noted prices of ground provision also rose with the recent rains. Eddoes increased to $7 from $5 and cassava is presently $3 per pound.

Asked why the increase she said, “When it rains, farmers can’t get into the market to dig and so there is less on the market and the prices raise. Also, because it’s month-end, some persons raise the price, hoping customers will still buy because they got paid.”

Vendor Ria Balroop noted garlic prices dropped from $10 to $8 while onion remained at two pounds for $5. However she expects prices to drop soon and then raise at the beginning of August when the new crop comes in. Dasheen bush increased to $3 a bundle wholesale while cabbages that were $1 to $1.50 are now $2 to $3 and lettuce raised from $4 to $7.

On Charlotte Street, Port-of-Spain, vendor Marissa Francis agreed the weather is affecting vegetable prices. She noted chemicals are expensive so farmers need to raise their prices to make a profit.

In addition, because of the rain, vegetables have begun to melt, making them scarce. She also expects the price of dasheen bush to increase as the water levels on farms rise and farmers are unable to pick their goods.

According to Francis, for the past two weeks, wholesale prices on several vegetables have increased.

Cucumber increased from $50 to $250 for a 70lb bag, cauliflower increased from $3 to $10 per pound, ochro from $5 to $10 to $$35 to $40 a bag, celery from $10 to $50 for a bundle of 20 and the cost of plantain doubled from $2.50 to $5.

At a popular grocery chain, several approximate prices are as follows:

ochro - $15 per lb

pumpkin - $3 per lb

pimento - $17 per lb

tomatoes - $13.5 lb

cucumber - $5.5 lb

lettuce - $3.5 per lb

red fish - $31 per lb

carite - $29.5 per lb

Maracas fisherman Stanley Chin however, disagreed with Central Bank about the drop in fish prices in May.

He said, because of choppy waters and bad weather, the small fish used as bait were not coming in to shallow waters where they are usually caught.

Therefore, fishermen could not catch any fish and were only getting shark. He noted however, as the weather calmed down last week, they were able to get a good haul.

Cocorite fisherman Sherwin Briggs said for several months, fish was “hard to come by.” However, about three weeks ago, the seas calmed down and they are now catching many fish in Paria.

George Street vendors noted fish prices dropped approximately one month after Easter but eventually increased as fishermen did not catch much. At the moment King Fish is being sold between $20 to $24 per pound, Carite at $24, Cro Cro at $10, Shark at $10 to $12 and Salmon at $12 per pound.

With the high cost of meat, fish and vegetables, many customers are cutting down on their grocery list. One woman said, because it is necessary to feed her family, she cannot stop buying.

However, she now has to be very careful and choose only what she can afford. Another customer said he usually shops for the month but, when prices are too high for his taste, he will not buy immediately but will return when prices decrease.

In the mean time, he said, he simply changes his menu to fit what he can afford.

Fortunately, even though the repo rate noted a raise in “bread and cereal,” National Flour Mills indicated there was no price increase for flour or bread.

The increase, therefore, may be due to an increased cost of cereal.

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