Vegetable price plummets, farmer hangs himself in desperation

| April 28th, 2011

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Han hanged himself, leaving behind his wife and young daughters

In the time when the prices of everything are sky-rocketing up in China, the recent plummeting price of vegetable seems rather abnormal and it is destructive to many vegetable farmers, most of whom are the low income population. A farmer from Shan Dong province hanged himself in desperation, leaving behind his wife and two young daughters.

Han Jin, the 39 year-old farmer, was an introvert and an honest, hard working person. Last year, he was told poultry farming was a lucrative business. So he built a shed and bought some sheep with the 10 thousand yuan he borrowed. Han was anticipating earning the money for his children’s tuition. Unfortunately, the sheep were infected with epidemic disease. Instead of earning any money, the poor farmer family lost the 10,000 yuan overnight. Yet it never rains but it pours. This year, he planted cabbage in his 6 mou (around 1/3 hectares) farm land (the main source of the family’s income). But when the cabbage is ready to enter the market, its price drops to less than 0.1 yuan per 500g.

"Though the price goes up a little today, but the day he killed himself, the cabbage is sold at less than 0.1 yuan per 500g. When he was back from the vegetable market, he was crying while drinking. He said, he didn’t see any hope…" Said Han’s wife,"We lost more than 10 thousand yuan this time. He said he was so worried that he didn’t want to live any longer. I tried to comfort him. He then stopped crying and asked me and the children to go to sleep. But when I woke up, I couldn’t find him. When I went to the washroom, he was hanging in there, dead. When I cut the rope around his neck, my little daughter was there too. Now she can’t fall asleep, always cries, asking for her father… I’m going to sell the rest of the cabbage, then go to the cities to find a job. I have to raise my children and pay off the debt…"

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Farmers in Ji Nan show the unsaleable cabbages

The retail price of cabbage drop by more than 40% from last year’s same period. Last April, cabbage was sold at around 2~3 yuan per kg in Qingdao, Shang Dong province, this year is around 1.2 per kg.

The nose dive in the vegetable price has left many farmers no choice but to destroy or just leave them rot in the land. There are many reasons for this abnormal nose dive in the vegetable price. For one, farmer’s expanded production of certain vegetable. Last two year’s high price has caused many farmers to expand their production and thus result in an oversupply; And another reason was the prolonged winter and delayed spring has affected the ripening times of the vegetable. Consequently, vegetables from north China and south China enter the city at the same time and again oversupply is resulted.

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While the farmers selling their vegetables dirt cheap, according to the ministry of commerce, vegetable price on the market rises by 32.9%

While the farmers selling their vegetables dirt cheap, according to the ministry of commerce, vegetable price on the market rises by 32.9%. This is not hard to understand when one considers the complicated circulation links in the farm product trade process. For a head of cabbage that grows in the farmland to finally reach retailers, it has to go through a flow of 6 circulation links, which is "production (farmland) – buyers – regional markets – wholesale markets – secondary wholesale markets – retailer (supermarket)". For each circulation link, there will be around 10%-20% of price mark up. During this flow, the vegetable that’s sold at 1 yuan/kg, will ends up being sold at around 3 yuan/ kg in the supermarket.

23 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. Curren$y says:

    Part of me feels for him, part of me wants to call him a coward for leaving his family behind.

  2. mike says:

    sad. this is why i will never get married unless i have a stable income.

  3. Dr. K says:

    Tragic on 2 counts. First the plight of the family.

    Second, the most interesting use of English:

    “…he was told poultry farming was a lucrative business. So he built a shed and bought some sheep…”

    Last I checked, “sheep” were not “poultry”. Or am I missing something here?

    • Gary says:

      I thought he was really quite a genius. Upon hearing everyone else was going to raise chickens, he got sheep instead to avoid the glut in the poultry market. Too bad they were sick. Everyone, repeat after me: diversify! Instead of all sheep or all chickens or all cabbages, have a little of each.

      • Joe says:

        Haha…hilarious. Indeed a stroke of genius.

        • keius says:

          I’ll chalk that up to a translation error. I can’t see any farmer actually stupid enough to make a mistake like that 😛

          That’d be one helluva mistake though…..

  4. Vincent Chu says:

    The sheep were literally and probably fed fake ass mantou. Made with lead and uranium. No joke. This is what savage Chinese people do.

  5. Nik says:

    If he was told poultry farming was profitable, why would he buy sheep? Sheep are not poultry!

  6. Ronon says:

    I believe that suicide is ok if you don’t have a family like this guy had. But to leave your wife and daughters all alone, it’s an extreme sign of cowardliness. Now the wide will probably go work at a factory for 16 hours a day, and the girls will most likely turn to prostitution when they’ll turn 13-14 years old.

  7. Crystal says:

    I think that there must be some kind of protection for farmers exactly for such cases.
    Maybe the minimum purchase price can be guaranteed in some way.

    • Ross says:

      Not in China…should know this by now

    • But this is exactly the sort of situation that is not easy to solve through direct intervention due to all the possible unintended consequences.

      1) Government dictates a minimum price. Result: Middlemen pass on the price increase to consumers, possibly decreasing demand further. Consumers become angry at this price inflation making staples unaffordable and possibly riot; middlemen buy fewer supplies of the price-controlled commodity whenever supply/demand dictates that these goods are worth less than what they can reasonably be sold for. Farmers would still be left with unsellable vegetables rotting in the fields.

      2) Government subsidizes a minimum price. Result: Massive costs to be borne by tax-payers. If the money is coming out of government leaders’ pockets, or out of the money being wasted on infrastructure boondoggles, perhaps not such a bad thing. Something tells me it wouldn’t, however.

      There are social supports that a government can and should provide to such people, but altering the pricing mechanism strikes me as reckless.

      Either way, there are consequences. The lesson of this article, as far as I can see, is that business (as with life) is not without risks. This farmer made a gamble on two particular trends and–due to bad luck as well as the fact that other farmers were making the same bet on cabbage–lost. His family lost more, however, when he deprived them of all future time and effort he could have contributed to their well-being.

      • keius says:

        Well said. Farmer’s must choose what to grow/produce based on market demand just like everyone else. Unless it’s a market where entities purchase “futures” of the product with a guaranteed price/payout.

        Either way, inflation is high in China right now and cost of living is booming.
        This guy’s family isn’t the only one having a hard time of it. He really did choose the cowards way out. I don’t think his family has any kind of future to look forward to.

  8. WZ says:

    There definitely should be a better and more efficient way to distribute agricultural commodities, the middle men should be completely cut out, so end consumers and farmers can enjoy better pricing. This probably should be a World Bank or MBA school project…but without access to information and direct links to retailers, the farmers are screwed as always…

  9. James says:

    Yeah, sure. Hang yourself. That’ll make everything better.

  10. Xino says:

    the guy is a coward man!

    that’s your family for crying out loud! You took the cowards way and leave your family to further suffer!

    i mean, if he had waited he would have sold some vegs at the higher price.

    I just feel sorry for the wife and daughter now because things will be difficult without the guy man:/

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