Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fruit for thought: how much longer can we afford ours?

MY friend lamented how pricey local fruits had become during breakfast last week. He recounted how papayas had grown so expensive at the market he went to that he had to forgo his favourite fruit for a rock melon.
The papaya was selling at RM5 each. So was the rock melon of the same size, but he chose the better-looking rock melon in case the blemish-skinned papaya turned out to be a lemon.

Every week, when shopping for fruits at the market, my wife and I face the same predicament. Since cutting down on meat two years ago, we had channelled the savings into fruits instead.

Papaya was among our favourite local fruits but its price had been fluctuating so much of late that we wondered if supply was truly short or if it was a scam by the fruit vendors.

Three years ago, I recall, the price of the common local papaya was only RM1 a kg. It went up to RM1.50, and hovered around the RM2.50 mark. When supply was low, the price hit RM3.50 a kg.

The highest I had ever paid for a local papaya — that was probably carbide-ripened judging from the spots I saw on its skin — was RM3.80 a kg. The fruit vendor told me that the papaya farms in Perak were affected by a root rot epidemic.

Mature fruiting trees were wiped out and even the harvested fruits rotted on the way to the stalls.

During that time, even the imported Hawaiian solo was snapped up like hot cakes. A regular at the market joked that at the rate the papaya prices were rising, it would be cheaper to look for commercial laxatives to deal with her constipation.

Papaya is not the only local fruit that is costly these days. Guavas, cheap and plentiful in the old days, I noticed, have become a rare commodity, too. The giant guava costs between RM2.50 and RM3.50 a kg while its seedless cousin is sold for as much as RM6 a kg.

Last week, I bought a kg of guavas for RM7 from a vendor who claimed that his fruits were from Bukit Tinggi in Pahang. True or not, the fruits were crunchier and had fewer skin blemishes.

I was tempted to buy a kg of honey rose apples (jambu air) as well but was stopped by the RM9.50 per kg price tag — and there were only a dozen fruits to a bag.

At the Pasar Ramadan near Setapak Jaya just before Raya, a kelapa pandan (fragrant young coconut) vendor chided me for asking if I could get five for RM10. He said he could not go any lower than RM2.50 a coconut.

When I asked him if the plantations in Bagan Datoh were not producing enough for the local market, he laughed and said his fruits were not from there but from south Thailand. I wonder how much young coconuts from local plantations cost these days.

At the rate the prices of local fruit prices are climbing, it is not difficult to imagine what families, especially the big families, would be serving on their dinner tables a few years down the road.

Would you purchase a kg of papaya or guavas or go for a bag of green apples if they all cost the same but the latter had more fruits to go around?

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