Each day, some 3,300 farmers and traders come to Bangkok’s Simum Muang Market to ply their trade, which generated around THB300 million baht per day. That was before the COVID-19 outbreak, the emergency decree and the shutdown of businesses.
Now, sales are down by half.
For the past month, there have been few buyers. China is not importing. Travel restrictions, elevated health concerns and government measures have forced restaurants and hotels to close down. It’s the same story in Khlong Toei Market, sales are down by 50% and prices are slashed to get rid of produce before it further rots.
Fruits and vegetables grown by farmers are going to waste. The markets are still open. But there’s simply very few people buying.
Before the business shut down, Nooch was making THB7,000-8,000 a day. A vegetable farmer from Nonthaburi Province, she sells coriander and basil off the back of her truck at Simung Muang Market.
“I bring in the same amount of vegetables, but I can now only sell it at around THB2,000-3,000,” she said. “I still have to cover the cost of petrol, wages for eight laborers on my farm and pay rent to park my truck here. This leaves me with no profit.”
Nooch is running at an estimated loss of up to THB34,500 a month.
Nat is a lime seller. Like many of the vendors, she also acts as a middleman for many other farms. She is worried about sales and how she will support her network of farmers in Nakhon Pathom Province.
“Sales are down by 50%,” she said. “There are no customers with restaurant and hotel closure. My limes are turning yellow and I have to keep dropping the price every day they are not sold. What I usually sell for THB170 a kilo, I now end up selling some at five baht.”
Amphon is a guava and rose apple farmer. He has been selling at Simum Muang Market for over 20 years. He used to sell 30 crates a day, but these days he only brings in half the amount to sell. There is more supply than demand and farmers are really suffering.
“Farmers are trying to keep their fruits on the trees as long as possible in hopes the situation improves,” he said.
It’s the same story at Khlong Toei Market, everyone is operating at a loss. Alisa is a vegetable wholesaler. She supplies to restaurants and market stalls in shopping centers. Sales are down and so are her profit margins.
“I used to buy vegetables for THB12 a kilo from Simung Muang Market and sell it here at THB20 a kilo. Now I have to accept making only two to three baht profit a kilo,” she said.
“Everyone is scared of COVID. I’m scared, but I have to be here. I have a business to run and my workers depend on me for their salaries. Sales are down by 50% and I just have to accept it.”
Life is even bleaker for small-scale vendors like Duangjai, who sells vegetables to housewives, migrant workers, motorbike taxi drivers and others. She used to make up to THB500 in profit a day and now, on a good day she might make THB100. Some days she makes no money.
“By the time the vegetables reach me from Simung Muang Market I can be the fourth or fifth purchaser. What can’t be sold is sold to me. If I’m unlucky the vegetables can be four or five days old and 40% of it is already rotten,” she said.
The stories of these farmers and vendors are only the tip of the iceberg. Everyone has a family to support, farmhands who rely on salaries and many also represent networks of farmers and sell on their behalf.
The number of vendors at Simum Muang Market may be around 3,300. But there are countless others who rely on what’s being sold each day at the market.