The suicide of a debt-ridden cabbage farmer and nuclear radiation rumors appear to have prompted Shandong Province and national authorities to force supermarkets and wholesale markets to embark on a buying spree from struggling vegetable farmers.
Authorities should take immediate actions to "help farmers tackle difficulties in selling their produce and maintain a stable market," according to a notice on Friday from Shandong's commerce department and then from the Ministry of Commerce, the Beijing Times reported on Sunday.
Han Jin had hanged himself on April 16 after the price offered by vegetable dealers hit a low of 0.16 yuan (2.5 cents) a kilogram, meaning losses of about 10,000 yuan ($1,537) in the town of Tangwang, Jinan, Shandong Province. His wife was quoted as saying by the Xinhua News Agency.
The cabbages reportedly sold for less than 0.2 yuan a kilogram but cost more than 1 yuan to grow, said the man's wife, who has not been named by any Chinese media.
Local commerce and agriculture departments should establish a demand-supply information platform for farmers, the ministry announced.
Yu Maijian, a worker at a Qingdao vegetable wholesale market in Shandong Province, told the Global Times he hadn't heard of the notice.
"We would obey if we knew about the notice," Yu said on Sunday.
Shandong, Henan and Beijing farmers of cabbage, celery, spinach and lettuce are reportedly suffering most from the price squeeze.
Cabbage last year sold for a relatively high price of 2 yuan ($0.3) a kilogram. This year it's 0.1 yuan (1.5 cents).
The price of garlic last year rocketed to a record high of 16 yuan ($2.5) a kilogram. "Oversupply contributed mainly to the poor market," Yu said on Sunday.
Fears that leaf vegetables like cabbage are vulnerable to Japan's nuclear radiation have also dampened demand this year, revealed Han Fenfang, a 55-year-old farmer from Qingdao.
Wholesale vegetable prices fell for three weeks running in April, the ministry recorded, but shoppers didn't see the benefits at all.
"It was vegetable agents, plus the high logistics and labor costs that resulted in high prices at the consumption end," Yu said.
The final price might be 10 times that of the wholesale cost, some news reports alleged.
Seeds and fertilizers further shrank the profit margin, the Beijing Times reported.
Some farmers reportedly had razed whole fields of vegetables to alleviate losses.
"The government could enhance vegetable subsidies to farmers," said a Beijing vegetable wholesale market vendor on Sunday.
In the long term, he said, "what the governments can do is to work more on forecasting market trends and guiding planting."
Governments could also expand storage to solve the imbalance of seasonal supplies and curb extreme price fluctuations, said Zheng Fengtian, a professor of agriculture and rural development study at the Renmin University of China in Beijing.