The Largest Farmers’ Market in Penang: Tasek Gelugor

By Lim Sok Swan

June 2022 FEATURE
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Tasek Gelugor Farmers’ Market on Sunday morning.
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TELLING PEOPLE WHERE Tasek Gelugor is has always been a challenge for me – largely because most assume that it is a neighbourhood in the better-known Gelugor suburb on the Island. This overlap of names is unsurprising since the name “Gelugor” is derived from the fruit Asam Gelugor (scientific name Garcinia atroviridis), which is widely cultivated in Penang.

Tasek Gelugor is a town located in Seberang Perai Utara on the mainland. Quiet and unassuming, it is not particularly known for much except for the largest farmers' market (pasar tani) in Penang, which operates there every Sunday morning, rain or shine.

In spite of the impressive size of this market, people tend to be more familiar with the farmers' market in Balik Pulau, on the west side of the Island, which is well-known for its fruits. In truth, the Balik Pulau Farmers’ Market, along with the Tasek Gelugor Farmers’ Market, are among the few remaining farmers’ markets in Penang that have managed to pull through the pandemic. Prior to this, Penang had 21 farmers' markets with 488 vendors, according to the 2019 Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) report – the lowest share in the country. Nevertheless, their total sales value was a high RM 12,723,689, which is more than what Sarawak and Melaka made from their farmers’ markets.[1]

Read also: Seberang Perai Utara in Numbers

Agriculture is a Business

Farmers' markets began as a marketing institution in 1985 with the purpose of increasing marketing channels and encouraging agropreneurs to sell their agricultural products directly to customers. It was to help farmers receive fair and remunerative pricing while supplying outstanding items to consumers at reasonable prices.

However, not all farmers' markets managed to accomplish that; some farmers have not had the capacity to be involved in the sale of their products on top of growing them. As a result, some farmers' markets have begun to enable small businesses or small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to participate and sell items bought straight from the source (Jualan Terus dari Ladang). Despite deviating from its initial design, this assists in the development of the country's agricultural business.

These small businesses make up the majority of the farmers' market in Tasek Gelugor. "Most of them were conducting business at Tasek Gelugor's public market before the pandemic," says Raja Muhammad bin Raja Jaafar, a FAMA staffer who works on the ground and is also the manager of the Tasek Gelugor Farmers' Market. "As vendors gradually dominated the sides of the road, local residents complained about them blocking the road, leaving them with no alternative except to sell their items elsewhere."

Raja Muhammad bin Raja Jaafar, manager of the Tasek Gelugor Farmers’ Market (left) and Mohd Azhari bin Mohd Afandi, Assistant Economic Affairs Officer from Seberang Perai Utara’s FAMA Office.

One of these is the current location of the farmers' market, which is in a different part of town not far from the public market, the police station and the health clinic. As the area already sees high traffic at several big grocery shops and an evening flea market nearby, the farmers' market, which runs from 7am to 12 pm on Sundays, also enjoys high footfall.

What Makes a Thriving Farmers’ Market?

However, traffic is not the only indication of a thriving market; a diversity of products and seller cohesiveness are also important variables.

"A successful farmers' market provides a diverse selection of products, including vegetables, fruits, fish and meat, making it a one-stop shopping and buying destination for local residents," Raja Muhammad elaborates. Vegetables and prepared dishes are the focus of Tasek Gelugor Farmers' Market. Other than that, three Kuala Muda saltwater fish vendors occupying nine canopies also bring in thousands of Ringgit each time they sell. A meat butcher, a milk seller, a variety of processed foods, and various textiles and clothes are also available.

In addition, the farmers' market in Tasek Gelugor has a sellers' organisation with over 70 members that helps with everything from developing and executing SOPs to collecting rubbish disposal fees. Azhan bin Darus, the organisation's chairman, also places donation boxes at the market. He states that the funds raised might be used to help individuals, including sellers or customers, who might need it at the market. The remaining funds are usually donated to a local mosque to assist people in need.

Azhan bin Darus, Chairman of Tasek Gelugor Farmers’ Market’s Seller Organisation.

As a rule, FAMA performs market research and sales testing ahead of time to see if the location is suitable for hosting a farmers' market. But according to Mohd Azhari bin Mohd Afandi, Assistant Economic Affairs Officer from Seberang Perai Utara’s FAMA Office, a farmers' market's survival cannot be guaranteed by these factors alone.

“Sometimes it's just a matter of whether the location is affluent.” He describes it using the Hokkien term "ong" (prosperous).

In Seberang Perai Utara, for example, Pinang Tunggal is an important fruit-producing area. However, because the location is a little remote and the products sold are primarily fruits, a healthy ecology of a stable farmers' market did not develop, and it can no longer run after just five months of assistance.

Dried goods stall.

Another example is the farmers' market in Seberang Jaya, Seberang Perai Tengah's most densely populated and wealthy district. This market flopped because of the availability of shopping centres in the area. As they later learned, with more shopping options, fewer people would visit the farmers' market on weekend mornings.

FAMA is also considering setting up a Permanent Farmers' Market (Pasar Tani Kekal or in short, PTK) there, directly alongside the North-South Highway, with all of the essential amenities, such as restrooms and recreational space, to attract customers and live up to their slogan "Agriculture is a Business" (Pertanian adalah Perniagaan).

PTK opens up the possibility of the number of enterprises increasing by introducing and developing additional business hours. Consumers may also get high-quality agricultural products straight from the farm at reasonable costs every day. There are currently 31 PTKs in the nation, which are distributed in 12 states and federal territories. One of the states that has yet to form a PTK is Penang.[2]

Three Kuala Muda saltwater fish vendors occupy nine canopies, bringing in thousands of Ringgit each time they sell.

"We intend to inspire more individuals to invest in agriculture as well as enhance the income of agricultural employees," Mohd Azhari states. "A lot of people incorrectly believe that agriculture is merely a low-paying labour job, but they overlook the fact that it still has a high market value and may help to ensure food security; it's just how it works."

Footnotes:

[1] FAMA Annual Report 2019, p. 85.

[2] FAMA Annual Report 2020, p. 66.

Lim Sok Swan

is currently focusing on heritage studies. She believes that more understanding among different groups and cultures can make Malaysia a better home for all.


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