Rising edible oil prices in Myanmar spark long queues

18 September 2023
Rising edible oil prices in Myanmar spark long queues

Due to the increasing cost of edible oil in the market, residents of Yangon are queuing up to purchase it at a limited number of affordable shops.

The junta has imposed a reference wholesale price of about 4,160 Kyat per Burmese Viss (1 Viss = 1.63 kg) for palm oil.

In the open retail market, the price of a single Viss of edible oil has soared more than 10,000 Kyat. Recently, affordable palm oil has become accessible only at specific times at some affordable palm oil shops, aligning closely with the junta's reference price, at approximately 4,500 Kyat per Viss. These edible oil shops have introduced a first-come, first-served policy, allowing only a limited number of customers to make purchases. Consequently, this has resulted in long queues for those eager to buy it.

Due to the affordability of palm oil from these shops, people are compelled to wait in line under the scorching sun and even during rain showers. A housewife in Yangon shared that, despite the maximum purchase limit of just one Viss per person, there are instances where they can only procure as little as half a Viss.

"Because those shops sold palm oil at affordable prices, we joined the queue at the shops. But due to the high demand, even if I reach my turn, the palm oil might be sold out. Sometimes I can only purchase only half of a Viss. Our family is large, so we cannot afford to buy enough edible oil at regular shops. At those regular shops, just half Viss of palm oil costs 6,000 to 7,000 Kyat.”

It is unclear who requested or mandated these shops to offer palm oil at such affordable prices. Mizzima asked one of the shop owners, but he declined to disclose any information regarding the directive. According to a source with connections to the oil sellers, it is believed that junta authorities exerted pressure on certain edible oil traders to operate these shops as a short-term solution.

A typical grocery store seller commented, "These days, many customers are buying only a small fraction of a Viss, such as one-tenth or two-tenths. The demand for edible oil bottles has significantly decreased. We don't stock many bottles in our store due to their high cost and reduced demand. A half-Viss bottle of palm oil is now priced at around 7,000 Kyat."

Furthermore, a Yangon resident expressed strong criticism regarding the country's deteriorating condition, contrasting it with the days of civilian governance.

"Edible oil isn't provided for free; people have to pay for it from their own pockets. However, because these shops offer it at affordable rates, many reluctantly join the queues, even though it hurts their pride. Additionally, some media outlets capture their faces, which adds to their sense of embarrassment," he remarked. "It feels like waiting in line for charity, and it's truly disheartening. In which country do people have to queue up just to buy basic food? This was unheard of even during the civilian government's tenure in our nation. It is quite disappointing.”

In late August, there were reports of the junta summoning edible oil traders and companies with the intention of compelling them to lower the prices of edible oil.

Furthermore, the junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing recently pointed out that due to the substantial domestic demand for edible oil, the country annually imports more than US$600 million worth of this commodity, leading to significant foreign currency expenditure.