Amid the pandemic, vegetables from India cost three times more

Vegetable markets in Tiruchirappalli are buzzing with activity ahead of the Tamil New Year, with traders packing brinjals, beans, cucumbers, drumsticks, mangoes, bananas and the seasonal palm fruit in export-grade bags.

"We put fresh country vegetables and fruits on late-night passenger flights from Tiruchirappalli to Singapore, so that they are in the shops in Little India and Tekka market by 5am," said Mr George Santhona, proprietor of Blessing Cargo.

More than 70 per cent of the vegetables sold in Little India are flown in from Tiruchirappalli and Chennai in Tamil Nadu, said traders in Tekka market.


Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, vegetables have become at least three times more expensive since March last year, when India imposed a three-month lockdown, said traders.

The price hike is felt most acutely during festive seasons – the Tamil New Year (which falls today), Deepavali, Eid or Christmas – when fresh produce is in high demand in countries with Indian-origin populations.

Mr K. M. Ramalingam, managing director of Sri Murugan Trading in Singapore, said the island imports 20,000kg of vegetables a day from India. This rises to about 30,000kg over the weekend or ahead of festivals.

Except for tomato, beetroot and leafy vegetables that traders get at cheaper prices from Malaysia and China, every other vegetable arrives daily from India, especially Tamil Nadu.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, there were at least two daily direct flights from each of Tamil Nadu’s airports to Singapore. Now there is just one, said Mr Santhona.

Local transportation costs in India have also spiked due to an increase in diesel prices. Cartons and plastic bags cost about 50 per cent more too.

In addition, many vegetable suppliers have stopped offering 15-day credit to exporters and insist on advance payments, said Mr Balakrishnan Harikumar from NPK Fruits Export and Imports.

With fewer passenger flights, more goods are now being sent by cargo flights. Since freight charges are higher for cargo flights, the vegetables Mr Ramalingam sold in Tekka market for $5 a kg before the pandemic are now priced at $8 or $9.

“With Covid-19... people’s spending power is generally less, so they will curtail expenses. Customers only buy half the quantity if the price has doubled,” said Mr Ramalingam.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.