Drop in Kundasang Sabah vegetable sales as clients cease picking up produce

Azlan Othman

Sabah’s Kundasang vegetable farmers experienced an 80 per cent drop in sales since the Movement Control Order (MCO) was enforced on March 18 as their Sarawakian, Bruneian and local clients ceased picking up the fresh produce from the farms due to logistics restrictions.

Sabah Kundasang Agriculture Operators Association President Simon Leong said only a few local clients purchased vegetables from Kundasang from March 18 to 28, Malaysian newspapers reported. The association is also known as Persatuan Pengusaha Pertanian Kundasang Sabah.

Leong said within the 10 days, the farmers discarded at least 800 tonnes of vegetables worth over RM1 million.

On March 29, Leong said lorries from Sarawak finally returned to acquire the vegetables from Kundasang.

“However, our transactions have only recovered 30 to 40 per cent.”

Kundasang is a major producer of highland vegetables where around 1,000 farmers operate small and large vegetable farms ranging from one to 400 acres.

The total output of vegetables in Kundasang is estimated at 100 tonnes daily.

Leong has been operating his 40-acre vegetable farms in Kundasang for 30 years.

Before the MCO was enforced, he said Kundasang farmers sold 100 tonnes of fresh produce daily.

Besides local distributors from Sabah, he said 40-foot container lorries and 10-tonne lorries from Sarawak and Brunei were making 16 trips every week to Kundasang to pick up the vegetables.

“Up to 50 per cent of the vegetables produced here are exported to Brunei, Sarawak and others, while the remaining is supplied to the local market.”

Since the MCO was enforced to curb the spread of the COVID-19, he said lorries from Sarawak and Brunei had stopped coming, resulting in 90 per cent drop in sales. “For 10 days from March 18 to 28, there is no lorry to pick up vegetables bound for Sarawak and Brunei.”

Leong said the smaller trucks that acquire the vegetables for the local market only constituted about 10 to 20 per cent of the total output in Kundasang.

“The demand for vegetables throughout Sabah has dropped significantly due to the MCO. Vegetable hawkers are reluctant to purchase large volume of fresh produce because people are buying less and most restaurants have temporarily ceased operation.”

During the 10 days, Leong said vegetable farmers had to harvest the vegetables when they were ripe or else the ecology of the farms would be affected. But without any way of selling the vegetables, the farmers had no choice but to dispose of the fresh produce.

He said some farmers gave away their vegetables for free in Ranau and nearby areas.

Leong also donated the vegetables to Ranau Hospital, health department, orphanages and even food stalls and coffee shops.

Leong said the wholesale market for vegetables would need time to recover.

“On Tuesday I had a 40-foot container truck and two 10-tonne lorries from Sarawak to purchase the vegetables from Kundasang. The Bruneian clients have not returned yet.”

With sales slowly recovering, Leong said farmers were gradually replanting their vegetables in the hope that the market would improve for them to fetch a better price for their produce.