Recent flooding across the country has destroyed crops and led to a sharp increase in the price of vegetables and other produce at the market.
The wholesale price of tomatoes increased by 266 per cent, cauliflower by 108 per cent, and lettuce by 33.3, forcing retail prices up.
And now, some customers who are unable to cope with the "exponential rate" at which prices are rising have been walking away or buying less.
Agriculture consultant Riyadh Mohammed, speaking about the rate at which prices are rising, told the Sunday Guardian last week that a lot more damage has been done to farmers' crops in 2022 due to excess floods.
He said crops were destroyed by floodwaters in the Orange Grove and Plum Mitan areas.
In Orange Grove, crops include tomatoes and sweet peppers, while in the Plum Mitan Food Crop Project the crops affected were cucumbers, melongene and ochroes.
Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan confirmed last week that the country was experiencing around 180 per cent more rainfall than usual, and the low-lying areas usually impacted during heavy rainfall have been hardest hit.
According to Mohammed, "One of the major factors that have led to the increase in prices is not only the increasing inputs of supplies to agriculture but the loss of food. "Scarcity plays a heavy role." He said there are fewer volumes of food to sell, and by the laws of supply and demand, "the little food that there is to sell, the prices have automatically gone up in the market space."
However, "during the dry season, once farmers have access to water, food is cheap and affordable for the consumers."
Mohammed said while the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries compensates farmers for flood claims, the problem is that this is only for registered farmers.
"There are many unregistered farmers in the country, maybe about 80 per cent are unregistered. They don’t have the proper land tenure documentation. So, they cannot access any of the subsidies provided by the ministry as they don’t have their farmer's card or badge."
He said prices are stabilised when local farmers replant, but it takes two or three months for those crops to get back to the market. Then the prices will stabilise once the supply is consistent.
"What we are seeing now is that the importers have now charged the way forward such as importing produce like tomatoes and cauliflower to fill that gap." As a result, the price of imported produce is often much lower than the price of locally produced vegetables.
"An example is imported green cabbage, which sells at $10 per pound. Ginger sells for $15 per pound. Now because that it is imported, ginger sells at $6 to $8 a pound wholesale."
He gave before and after examples of wholesale price increases:
*Sweet peppers were $8/lb wholesale. Now it sells for $16/lb.
*Tomatoes were $6 to $8/lb wholesale. Now it sells for $22/lb.
*Cauliflower was $12 to$14/lb wholesale. Now it sells for $20 to $25/lb.
*Cabbage was $6 to $8/lb. Now it sells for $12/lb
Lettuce was $6 per head wholesale. Now it sells for $10 to $12 per head.
Vendor Sinanan Harridan arranges tomatoes for sale at the Central Market in Port-of-Spain.
Asha Jaggessar, who sells cassava and other provisions at the Port-of-Spain market, said that when floods affect farmers, it is difficult to get produce to vendors who sell at the markets, and so this pushes prices up.
"There are farmers who are higher up and further away from the flood, and they have to take animals with carts to go deep in the bushes and so we vendors have to pay more.
"The imported vegetables from the islands are generally cheaper than local produce."
But now, she admitted, customers are feeling the brunt of the price increases, and some are now "walking away" rather than buying produce at the market.
"From what I see, it is only those who really need it that are buying it. Some of the stuff is still selling but it is selling slower."
Patrice Ferrette, another vendor who sells tomatoes, peppers and chives, said because of the price increases caused by the floods she has suffered losses financially.
"For the last few days, the price of produce has gone up. The farmers who would usually bring the stuff, some of them couldn’t come because they got flooded. So, the one or two who came had a few products and raised the prices high."
She complained that many customers are upset because of the frequent rise in prices and they are not buying.
"Business is really slow. The money I invested, I am not making it back. I invested $4,000 last two weeks and I only made back $2,000. I invested $4,000 in pimentoes, hot peppers, and tomatoes among other things. The problem is people are not buying because of the high prices and they are melting and getting spoilt. Who will pay more than $20 a pound for tomatoes?" she asked.
Sinanan Harridan, who sells oranges and cabbages at the Port-of-Spain market, said that scarcity causes prices to skyrocket.
"It doesn’t have goods in the market after it floods. Then prices rise. I go to Macoya and buy and sell here. Some things are more expensive, but some people still buy as they have no choice."
Berty Green, who sells oranges and portugals among other fruits, said that the prices of these items remain fairly constant despite the floods.
"It could be that the farmers who are selling the citrus are more considerate and more flexible. There isn’t a shortage of oranges really and most of the portugals are full and ready for eating. Prices rise when there is a shortage of products.
"However, you are seeing a rise in vegetable prices."
He lamented that business is slower because people are not buying as much as before.
"They come and see some prices and say they don’t have money. Some people are crying. Others are more selective in their buying."
A customer selects provision at the Central Market in Port-of Spain.
These are price changes over the last two weeks based on interviews with vendors:
*Cassava was $1/lb. Now sells at $4 or $5/lb.
*Tomatoes were $15 /lb. Now they sell for $22/lb.
*Hot peppers were $5 for seven. Now they sell for $5 for 3.
*Limes were $10 for 10. Now they sell for $10 for four.
*Onions were $2/lb. Now it sells for $3/lb.
*Cucumber was 8/lb. Now it sells for $10/lb.
*Oranges are $10 for 4. The price remains the same.
*Portugals are 10 for $10. The prices remain the same.
_Reporting by Raphael John-Lall