Local Vanuatu Food Products Becoming More Expensive

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Imported foodstuffs cheaper on average, but not healthier

By Thompson Marango

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Sept. 27, 2012) – Healthier local products from Vanuatu are getting expensive than imported food.

Price tags of local food in the local markets mainly in the urban areas is one of the main reasons why more and more families will find more imported food in their plates rather than the much preached healthy local ‘kakai.’

When celebrating this year’s World Health Day, the then Acting Minister of Health, Deputy Prime Minister, Ham Lini repeated the famous saying, "Eat more local food to stay healthy."

While this message has been repeated over and over again many families living on the minimum wage are denied this local food and health equation as far as budget provided.

Simple calculations show that the price of the cheapest 1 kilogram rice in the many retail shops in town is way cheaper than a small heap of manioc or taro in the markets.

A small plastic of rice (approximately 1 kilogram) in a residential retail shop costs around Vt100 [US$1.08] and can feed more people compared to a small heap of local root crop of the same price in the market.

Buying at a larger quantity won’t make much difference when 25 kilograms of rice costs around Vt3,000 [US$32.43] and can last some families for a whole month. A basket of manioc, taro or a bundle of banana ranges from Vt500 to Vt700 [US$5.40 to US$7.56] but unlike the quality, the quantity in each basket or bundle is smaller if compared to rice.

The same difference comes up when it comes to protein sources, as a tinned fish capable of feeding an average family ranges from about Vt100 to Vt200 [US$2.16]. Such a price tag can’t be found on a fresh fish, or even a cut of beef of the same price will not be enough to provide adequate protein for an average urban family.

Observing market-goers especially in the smaller residential area markets and how many would turn over price tags then move on to the next basket, bundle or heap of food, one can notice how healthier local foods are getting unaffordable for many.

Even school kids have noticed the difference of price tags when it comes to making a choice between local and imported food.

A good example is the country’s largest bilingual school in Fresh Water. During recess there is always a large flow of students to the nearest shop, while small markets nearer to the school are hardly their destination.

In the shops, students can get sweets, twisties, ice blocks, or cookies for Vt10 to Vt30 [US$0.11 to US$32] minimum while fruits such as orange, pawpaw, uncooked peanut, coconut at the nearest market cost more.

Although a formal survey will be required to get the right statistics, the difference between the cost of healthier local foods is already one of the reasons why many mothers will go to the retail store to get something that comes in a plastic or can rather than going to the market for local food.

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