Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Bulk trade of fresh produce on the rise


PEOPLE wander off to markets in search of fresh produce without having to care who is selling them.
Selling of fresh produce, either at established or informal markets these days is fast changing.
 In the past, most of the sellers at markets were usually growers.
Selling fresh produce at the Lae urban market. Many sellers at are believed to be retailers

Selling of sweet potato at Lae Urban Market. This produce is among many other fresh produce traded in bulk

 Today, a new group, calling themselves “retailers” has become the main actors at major markets.
In the process, trading of fresh produce in bulk is becoming common; a trading system solely created by those involved themselves, in the process creating employment to people who act as middlemen, transport providers, and handlers.
A recent survey at the Madang urban market revealed that most sellers there were retailers.
This could be the same for other major markets.
Retailers here not growers but are city dwellers who are selling stuff they have bought in bulk from growers and others involved in the bulk trade.
Fresh produce traded are supplied from as far as Tambul in the Western Highlands and brought in by mostly middlemen who have obtained them from rural growers.
Selling fresh produce in bulk is more common to fast food outlets, supermarkets, hotels and other institutions, however, it is now becoming popular in markets as there are people willing to buy and resell them.
Many unemployed city dwellers have now gone into full time retailing of fresh produce and they have expressed it is good business.
They realised that suppliers come from distant places and cannot sell their produce at the markets and spend more time in town.
Accommodation and related costs are forcing suppliers to trade in bulk and return as soon as they can.
“We are aware that suppliers have accommodation and other related problems in town so we negotiate with them to buy their produce in bulk. We negotiate so that both parties are satisfied”, says Maria Norbert.
Maria,  in her late 30s from Gopme village at the foot of Mt Wilhelm, Chimbu, has been in the retail trade at the Madang urban market for some time and says it is her employment.
She makes enough to meet the daily needs of her family as well as school fees for her three children.
Maria is not alone, there are at least 30 other mothers like her in the same business and all have similar stories, unemployed and satisfied with what they are doing.
Selling fresh produce at the market is their means of survival.
Some have tried other activities but found there was not much income compared to what they get now. 
Fresh produce such as carrots, cabbage, bulb onion, spring onion, sweet potato, Irish potato, ginger, and broccoli are among those traded in bulk.
Most of produce are supplied from the highlands; Eastern highlands and Chimbu supplying most due to their closeness and transport cost.
It was noted that the retailers are familiar with the principal of supply and demand.
 Prices will go up when supply is low and come down when supply is high.
They also use such trends to negotiate with the suppliers, adding they would not buy any produce that is in abundance at the market at any one time as they would not make much.
Truck owners are also beneficiaries in this trade.
They charge a fee for every bag of produce, depending on the type of produce.
 It also depends on distance; ferrying fresh produce from Kainantu in the Eastern Highlands is cheaper compared to Tambul in the Western Highland province.
Thomas Niggints from Tomba in the Western bought a Toyota Dyna truck in 2004 with the intention to ferry passengers but is now involved in transporting fresh produce.
He says many people prefer to travel in buses nowadays and it is no use competing against them and has resorted to ferrying fresh produce, mainly to Lae and Madang.
On return, he ferries betel nut, mustard, sago and coconuts from the coast up to the Highlands. Thomas says it has now become a fulltime job for him, saying he only rests when dealers are not ready with their wares.
The trade employed here is something that has been created by those involved themselves.
Such activity needs to be supported as people have indicated that such trades can help support livelihoods of those involved.
Various constraints such as post-harvesting handling and proper storage facilities are affecting quality of produce, denying those in this business to get a good income.
The efforts of growers, the middlemen and retailers are an indication that people are willing to help themselves.
Agencies responsible will have to do what is necessary to support this group of people.
Their concerns and that of all rural growers are written on walls for everyone to see and it is only proper their concerns are considered and acted upon.
Maria and her colleagues consider what they are doing as their permanent employment. Indications were that they have no plans to quit, saying ‘em wok fotnait bilong mipela, wai bai mi pela lusim’.
And for the time being, trading of fresh produce in bulk promises to be booming and all parties satisfied.
But we should be asking, can it be sustained in the long run?

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