During a national blockade, farmers in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands had to throw away tons of fresh vegetables.
The wet markets were closed when social restrictions were introduced to stop the spread of the virus.
E-commerce was their savior when they first went online to connect with customers.
It has been a similar story for farmers and fishermen across Southeast Asia as they adopt a new way of selling.
The national blockade of Malaysia, which calls a Movement Control Order (MCO), has been in effect since March and has recently been extended to June 9th.
Steve Teoh is the owner of the Deoness Plantation in Cameron Highlands, 200 km north of the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, where he sells corn and flowers.
“When the movement control order happened, I was probably trying to throw the collected flowers away as the demand stopped abruptly overnight, as the florist shops had to close,” he said.
Luckily, Lazada, the Singapore-based e-commerce platform, stepped in to bring Mr. Teoh on board and connected him with an online florist to sell his flowers to a new customer base.
The company also helped other farmers tackle the same problem in Malaysia, with stacks of fresh fruit and vegetables that they couldn’t sell in the traditional way. Over 1.5 tons of vegetables were sold during the block’s first weekend, according to Lazada.
“Without an online channel, I will probably have to throw my flowers away,” added Teoh.
Audrey Goo is the owner of MyFishman, based in Malaysia, a subscription and delivery service for fresh fish in Malaysia. It also addressed the problem of not being sold in wet markets or delivering fresh fish before entering the e-commerce platform.
“Our business was definitely influenced by Covid-19, as we are unable to supply restaurants, wholesale fish markets, food stalls or coffee shops, as most have had to close, but be able to sell. online is still holding us back in business, “he said.
During the MCO, MyFishman saw sales increase by about 150% during the first two weeks while people were supplying food at home.
Lazada said that orders for fresh produce more than doubled in the region of Southeast Asia from mid-January to mid-May.
“Companies in every sector and sector, including agriculture, are rotating online to take advantage of new opportunities resulting from changing consumer preferences,” said Pierre Poignant, CEO of the Lazada group.
In Indonesia, the agricultural cooperative Rumah Sayur Group ventured online to help 2,500 farmers in 89 villages sell their fresh produce. Previously the group sold directly to supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and cafés in the Greater Jakarta area.
But when the pandemic hit, sales dropped by over 60%. This is when they turned to e-commerce.
Pak Opik, an Indonesian farmer, mainly sells “exotic” vegetables such as purple cabbage and Japanese cucumbers in traditional wet markets in the Jakarta area and in the city of Bandung in western Java. “The current pandemic situation is very demanding for us farmers, as we are used to selling our products through traditional channels,” he said.
But through the group’s e-commerce partnership, “our crops can still reach consumers nationwide, especially during the current situation where people are unable to go to market as they once were.”
In Thailand, Lazada is working with the government to help local farmers who normally export their fruit find new buyers locally. The Thai government and Lazada are looking to involve up to 50 fruit sellers during the country’s Golden Fruit Month campaign in June.
The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has opened its Taobao Live platform to farmers free of charge together with its Foodie Livestream channel to connect farmers from all over China with its 41 million followers. The technology company founded by Jack Ma claims that 15 million products were sold during the first three days of livestream.