Chinese people brainstorming to eat cheaper food

Updated: 2010-11-19 13:40


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BEIJING - Citizens in Haikou city had never before been so keen about growing their own vegetables.

But a close look into the green belt would betray their secret.

Instead of rose and Chinese redbud, the plants being grown were eggplant, spring onion, radish, Chinese cabbage, and others.

"We have already harvested the cole and eggplant twice. Now we almost do not need to buy vegetables,” said Lin Xiaofeng from the provincial capital city of south China's island Hainan Province.

Lin's family's monthly income was a little more than 1,000 yuan ($150), but data provided by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that prices of radishes, cucumbers and Chinese cabbage had soared by about 30 percent since October.

So Lin started growing vegetables in mid October.

Another citizen, a Ms Zhang, not only grows vegetable for herself, but offers them as gifts to others.

"Now a bunch of greens cost 3.5 yuan in supermarket, too expensive for some who earned barely some 1,000 yuan a month," she said while watering her garden.

Located in the tropical zone, Hainan is China's winter vegetable base.

But the rising vegetable prices, which began increasing this autumn, have driven many people there to grow vegetables themselves.

In other places like Fujian, Henan and Shaanxi provinces, people grow vegetables in the streets, their courtyards or on their balconies. Also, some people who believe that flowerpots are too small for vegetables use discarded bathtubs for planting their gardens.

Of note, China's consumer price index (CPI) hit a 25-month high of 4.4 percent in October. Food prices, accounting for 74 percent of the weight in calculating the CPI in China, rose 10.1 percent during the month. Data showed that the price of vegetables climbed by 31 percent, and those of fruit rose by 17.7 percent.

According to Yuan Gangming, an economics researcher at Tsinghua University, China has experienced five rounds of price surges in the past, with the largest in 1988.

In that year, prices in some places were out of control. People flooded into markets, making panic purchase of necessities like oil and salt, purchasing enough for a year.

Price hikes this year have worried ordinary people, as well.

On the Internet, a question asking "What can people buy with 100 yuan?" attracted the interest of many netizens.

"In 2000 I invited a friend to dinner. We ate a lot with just 50 yuan,” said a lady surnamed Zhou. "Now that a bottle of peanut oil costs 98 yuan, with 100 yuan you dare not go out with a friend."

At that time, Zhou, who was in college, spent 200 to 300 a month as board expenses. But today a dinner for three at KFC could cost 100 yuan.

In the 1980s, due to the lack of vegetables, many Beijingers developed the habit of growing Chinese cabbage. High food costs have forced some to pick up this habit two decades later.

In Chaoyang district, several elderly people squat to wrap up cabbages with newspaper, while on balconies more cabbages were being dried in the sun.

Also, in Lanzhou, capital of Northwest China's Gansu province, Liu, a grandmother, along with several neighbors buy entire bags of vegetables at lower prices. "Group purchasing may be a fashion among youngsters," she said with a smile, "but now we are following the fashion."

Even for group purchase, many housewives chose to get up early to "intercept" sellers.

"We will buy all your vegetables," Tan, with four other elderly ladies, said. After bargaining, they bought 44 kilograms of bamboo shoots, eggplant, towel gourds and spring onions, costing 160 yuan, dividing up the vegetables and expenses.

Also, expensive food was replaced with cheaper food. Zhang Jie worked in a company in Beijing and ate apples every day because "an apple a day keeps the doctor away".

"The price of apples almost tripled in the nearby supermarket and I eat pears now," she said.

Today, shrewd supermarkets sees rising food price as a chance for promotions.

In Chengdu, capital of southwestern Sichuan province, many supermarkets lowered prices of vegetables as a method to attract consumers.

"Although we earn less from vegetables, we succeed in attracting consumers who will buy other commodities. It is a way of promotion,” said a supermarket manager surnamed Zhang, who declined to be identified.

However, price increases of agricultural products didn't seem to bring many benefits to farmers.

"We can earn 50 to 60 yuan a day, a little bit more," said Li Guiying from the Xijiang village of Jiyuan city, the agricultural Henan province.

"But our expenses rose as well," she said.

"Prices of pesticide and fertilizer are all on the rise," said Liu Xueyou from the Zhangzhuang village of Xinyang city in Henan. "Despite the rise of grain prices, about 70 percent of us (fellow villagers) lost money,” he complained.

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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged Tuesday to ensure enough supply of grain, sugar, oil and vegetables, to stabilize food prices, and take temporary intervention measures when necessary.

Many provinces and cities, like Changchun of Jilin, Wuhan of Hubei and Guangzhou of Guangdong, provided subsidies to low-income residents to ensure their lives are not disrupted.

However, Hainan gardening authorities reiterated that growing vegetables in green belts, which meant changing the use of public land, was "against regulations and people could be fined 10 yuan a day for each square meter" they plant on.

But citizens said that tackling the "vegetable basket" problem was the key to restoration of the green belt.

"When I can buy cheap vegetables, why should I bother to grow them on my own?" Lin Xiaofeng asked.

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