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Food supply hit ahead of CNY, Ramadan after floods wiped out Malaysian farms

KUALA LUMPUR - Duck farmer Azim Omar lost nearly all of his 800 ducks on the first day of the new year when his farm in Segamat, Johor, was submerged in chest-high flood waters.

Mr Azim, 28, lost at least RM15,000 (S$4,836).

"I had to throw away some 1,200 eggs as they could be contaminated with bacteria from the flood waters," he told The Straits Times.

The 90 ducks who survived are traumatised and may take three to four weeks to recover. Mr Azim, who has no income this month, will have to feed them vitamins and anti-stress supplements.

He said that the fasting month of Ramadan usually sees high demand for salted eggs as Muslims stock up on them for pre-dawn meals or the breaking of fast, but now he is unable to supply any.

Chilli grower Ahmad Irham Mohd Noor, 40, saw his entire farm in Dengkil, Selangor, completely destroyed in floods which reached 3.4m high, with losses of around RM100,000 (S$32,300).

"The demand for chillies during Chinese New Year is quite high. My crops were due to be harvested at the end of January but now they are all gone," he told ST, adding that he had yet to receive any government aid.

Supplies to Singapore are also affected, according to Mr Bernard Teh, manager of Yong Kah vegetable farm in Simpang Renggam, Johor, which exports some 70 per cent of its produce to Singapore.

"Both hardy and leafy vegetables are limited. The continuous rain and flood seriously affects the crop. Even if there are no floods, too much rain causes the crops to die," he told ST.

Leafy vegetables such as chye sim may be able to return to 80 per cent of normal supply to Singapore by the Chinese New Year, but hardy vegetables like brinjal, bittergourd and cucumber will take longer to recover, he added.

The disruptions in the food supply chain - ahead of Chinese New Year next month and Ramadan in April - come after a series of massive floods devastated parts of Malaysia from Dec 18.

Malaysia Federation of Vegetable Farmers Association president Lim Ser Kwee said many farmers were badly-hit by floods in states such as Johor, Selangor and Pahang.

"We will be facing a shortage of vegetables until Chinese New Year and Hari Raya because of the floods. Farmers can't replant in time for Hari Raya. Most farms have been totally destroyed. And there aren't enough foreign workers right now," he told ST.

Mr Lim said vegetable prices have risen by up to 30 per cent due to the supply crunch, as farmers are left counting their losses estimated to run in the millions of ringgit.

"It is hard to count the losses. Farmers start off with two to three acres and expand slowly to 30 to 50 acres, and then suddenly the floods come and you lose everything overnight. It will take at least one to two months to rebuild, and some farmers are not strong anymore. Prices of raw materials have also gone up," he added.

The price hikes may lead to restaurants serving smaller portions to customers, said Pan Malaysia Koo Soo Restaurants and Chefs Association vice-president Ringo Kaw.

He said prices of poultry had increased by 20 per cent recently and food operators were struggling to cope.

"Essentially, reducing food portions is an increase of food price because even with smaller portions, consumers still have to pay the same (price)," he was quoted as saying by the Star daily on Jan 10.

Amid concerns over price increases, Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) chairman Mohd Fasiah Fakeh said that vegetable prices are expected to stabilise soon.

He said the price hikes were due to several factors including floods and other unpredictable weather in cultivation areas, which have created a shortage.

"We believe we can stabilise vegetable prices within the next few months… possibly in a month or two," he was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times daily.

floodsAGRICULTURE/FARMINGmalaysiaFOOD PRICES