Vegetable Sales Tumble Amid COVID Curbs in China’s Agriculture Hub

After the real estate malaise and crippled iPhone production, China’s central province of Henan is facing another looming crisis due to the pandemic restrictions — vegetable waste.

Nearly 50 counties in the province have witnessed difficulties in selling their fresh produce, with farmers complaining that consistent lockdowns and other excessive curbs have hobbled procurement and strained transportation and logistics, domestic media reported Thursday. Known as the “granary of China,” the agriculture hub accounts for around one-tenth of the overall national vegetable production.

The issue came into the spotlight after the town of Zhifang reported around 191 million kilograms of cabbage, 3.5 million kilograms of scallions, and other products had been left in farms as they were unable to reach consumers. In a spreadsheet that was widely circulated online, nearly 500 farmers said they were facing difficulties in selling their vegetables, with some even claiming to offer them for free if buyers bore the labor costs.

“The outbreaks have brought sales to a halt over the past month and put our plans out of whack,” a farmer in the city of Shanqiu told Sixth Tone, adding that the two-week lockdown in his village in October has discouraged potential franchisors and retailers from visiting.

“Many business partners are also reluctant to come, mentioning risks of infections amid the flare-ups,” another farmer in the city of Luoyang said.

Both the farmers asked to remain anonymous fearing retaliation from local authorities.

In the wake of the farmers’ plight, the provincial government last week vowed to tackle the crisis, asking local officials to offer green channels for transportation and prohibiting excessive COVID curbs. But a viral video shared by a Douyin user claiming to be a supermarket owner about his failure to get products reveals the arduous process of requesting certificates and permits from local officials before entering a village.

Disruptions to food supply have worried industrial insiders, as damage to local farmers is likely to affect the supply chain and ultimately market prices. Vegetable prices at Xinfadi, Beijing’s biggest food wholesale market to which Henan is one of the major suppliers, logged a monthly increase of 9% in early November, while the purchasing prices for some vegetables from the farm have plummeted, according to its website.

The Shanqiu farmer said that sales have gradually picked up after local authorities relaxed the restrictions, though he doesn’t expect to make any profits this year. Meanwhile, the farmer from Luoyang said that he hadn’t been able to sell anything in the past few days after his town went into a quasi-lockdown following an infection.

“There’s nothing I can do other than watch them rot (if the situation persists),” he said.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A woman picks vegetables at a village in Xuchang, Henan province, Nov, 5, 2022. VCG)

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