Fear of food shortages as restrictions hit supply chain

Wholesalers say people are buying less fresh food during the movement control order as they prefer goods with a longer shelf life.

PETALING JAYA: Wholesalers are sounding a warning about shortages in food supplies, saying the distribution of fresh produce has been disrupted by national travel restrictions under the movement control order (MCO).

Farmers and fishermen have cut their production capacity as they cannot sell as much, according to the president of the Malay Fish Wholesalers Association for the Federal Territories and Selangor, and the head of the KL Fruits Wholesaler Association.

Ibrahim Mohamad of the fish wholesalers association said current travel restrictions made it difficult for middlemen to distribute fresh fish and that many distributors and retail suppliers had stopped operations.

“Even if fishermen go to sea, it is useless. They are not able to sell their fish.

“If they are in Terengganu, then maybe they can sell their fish to the villages nearby. But if they have a large catch and they want to send it to Kuala Lumpur, that is difficult,” he said.

Therefore, he added, most fishermen are not going out to sea.

He said wholesalers are not ordering as much fish because of the lower demand from small traders while demand for fresh food is also decreasing as people are opting for food items with a longer shelf life.

He said if the management of food supplies was not improved, it could lead to shortages if the MCO is extended.

“The people who are producing food – they are there, but they cannot distribute because of all the restrictions.”

Ibrahim sells fish in bulk to traders, supermarkets and shops in the Klang Valley, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang and Melaka. He said despite an estimated 50% to 60% cut in the supply of fresh fish, he has to carry on because operations like his are crucial to the supply chain.

“I cannot stop because my business is like a pulse. If I stop, it will be a detriment to the 2 million consumers in Kuala Lumpur,” he said.

His fish comes from fishermen in Kuala Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak, Thailand and Bangladesh, among others. It is then collected at the Selayang wholesale market for sale to traders and restaurateurs before they open their shops.

The market is still allowed to operate from midnight until 7am throughout the MCO period.

Ibrahim said even though there are currently no restrictions on the number of people buying and selling, there are health checks at entry points.

Disinfecting exercises are also carried out on a regular basis at the wholesale market.

Ibrahim said an extension of the MCO into the month of Ramadan would be a catastrophe for fishermen and fish suppliers.

However, if restrictions loosen up by then, business could bounce back fairly quickly, he added.

The president of the Kuala Lumpur Fruit Wholesalers Association, Chin Nyuk Moi, said the restrictions on morning markets and night markets had had an impact on trade. “We definitely feel this effect,” she said.

She added that not many traders come to wholesale markets anymore.

“Even if farmers send their produce to us, it will be costly for us. Fruits will rot in three days. There will be a lot of wastage.”

Chin, a fruit importer, said she now orders imported fruits only if customers want them.

But she said this was not the case for local fruit wholesalers.

Local fruit trader, Lai Kong Fong, who usually sells bananas, guavas, pineapples and star-fruits, said most wholesalers have ”stopped almost everything”.

He said he has asked his suppliers to stop sending their produce for two weeks now.

He also said groups such as pineapple farmers from states like Johor had difficulty transporting their produce.

“Not many people are going out. We are an essential service, but this is not the most essential thing. Even we want to protect ourselves from the virus,” he added.

The government has announced that all activities related to farming and fishing, including factories, are allowed to operate during the MCO period.

Senior minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said shops selling fertilisers and equipment needed for farming and fishing are also allowed to stay open.