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Fruits and vegetable prices fluctuating as Christmas approaches

The prices of fruits and vegetables have been fluctuating over the past four weeks, but last weekend the majority declined in a hopeful signal that food prices may not spike too much beyond the reach of consumers in the run-up to Christmas.

Produce prices tracked by the Jamaica Agricultural Market Information Systems, JAMIS, ranged from $77 to $1,073 per kilogramme for the week ending December 10. The data showed that consumers who picked up fruits and vegetables last weekend saved on average $15 on every pound of produce purchased, compared to what they would have spent a week earlier.

However, when compared to the similar period of 2021, most fruits and vegetable are more expensive than a year ago, amid spikes in inflation and weather-related impacts on crops.

High-demand produce such as plummy tomatoes, carrots, ripe plantains and pumpkin recorded some of the steepest declines over the past week; while the cost of yellow yam and Christmas-favoured produce such as sorrel and green gungo peas were trending upwards. The cost of the iceberg lettuce, cowboy pineapple and sweet yam were relatively flat week on week.

Farmgate prices per kilogramme posted on JAMIS as at December 10 included:

Carrot: $315, down 18%

Sugarloaf pineapple: $238, down 10%

Plantain (ripe): $194, down 12%

Pumpkin: $189, down 14%

Tomato (plummy): $319, down 27.5%

Green banana: $85, down 8%

Lettuce: $374, down 0.3%

Gungo (green): $523, up 19%

Sorrel: $480, up 9%

Yellow yam: $268, up 21.8%

In a preliminary assessment of some of the factors impacting the price consumers pay for produce, JAMIS Production and Marketing Manager Xavier Charvis told the Financial Gleaner that the downward trend in prices over the past week might be reflective of adequate food supply in the market.

“The prices of commodities, particularly vegetables, have been fluctuating over the last couple of weeks indicating that the market is still unsure. However, we have noticed in the last week or two that most are trending down,” said Charvis. “We still have to be doing assessments, but we believe the rains in October impacted production and quantity of produce we are seeing now.”

Jamaica was placed under storm watch between late October and early November when Tropical Storms Ian and Lisa threatened the island. During that time, sections of southern Jamaica experienced heavy rainfall, impacting the farm belt.

“Farmers usually would have some amount of production going on but that rain lasted for a couple days, and since then we have been getting consistent rains especially in the vegetable producing parishes such as St Ann, Clarendon, Westmoreland, Manchester and some parts of St Andrew,” Charvis said.

The rains had destroyed production which delayed farmers going back to the fields, and pushed back reaping times, he added.

“A lot of the three-month vegetables were affected by the rain, but most six-month vegetables like cucumber are at very low prices,” he said.

As for produce like yellow yam that has been trending upwards in price, Charvis said rising fertiliser costs could be the leading cause.

“Key inputs like fertilisers are more expensive now due to Ukraine-Russia war. The farmers are feeling the impacts, and some of those costs may be passed on to the consumer,” he said.

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica reported last month that the inflation rate for October was 1.5 per cent, which was driven by a two-per cent increase in food and beverage prices. Housing, utilities and gas had a bigger price shift, having risen by 3.4 per cent.

In the food category, the main drivers included items such as carrots, tomatoes, sweet pepper and cabbage, Statin said, amid an overall increase of seven per cent in the price of agricultural products under the class known as ‘vegetable, tubers, plantains, cooking bananas and pulses’.

Annual inflation inched back up to 9.9 per cent in October, influenced by a 10 per cent increases in the prices of food and beverages, 12.7 per cent in utilities, housing and gas, and 20.6 per cent for restaurants and accommodation services, amid continuing recovery of the tourism and hospitality markets.

Consumers seeking the best bang for the buck will have to take a trip to the Coronation Market in downtown Kingston. Still, for some specific items such a cabbage and lettuce consumers, there are bargains to be had in the produce markets in Clarendon and St Ann.

“The lowest will be at Coronation Market because 60 to 75 per cent of Jamaica’s produce moves from the parishes, to the Coronation Market and then back to the parishes,” said Charvis.

“It’s a complex and dynamic market,” he said.

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