The price tag of tomatoes, which was ₹60 a kg last week at the vegetable markets in Rayalaseema districts, all of a sudden jumped to an unnerving ₹100-plus on Saturday. The stocks are the first and second-grade varieties obtained from the Madanapalle market of Annamayya; Palamaner and Punganur markets of Chittoor district.
The first grade is making its way to the supermarkets in Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, New Delhi, and other northern cities, where it commands a price of close to ₹150 a kg, thus sending shivers all over India post the COVID pandemic.
The last time tomato price crossed ₹200 in south India was in the last quarter of 2015 following devastating rains in November and December, coupled with the Nivar cyclone.
According to the latest trends in the tomato business in Madanapalle, Asia’s largest tomato-growing belt, the total arrival of stocks on Saturday was 195 tonnes, as against 300-plus tonnes on May 2.
The regular daily arrivals during this time in the previous years stood at close to over 1,200 tonnes.
Saturday’s wholesale price at Madanapalle was put at ₹70 a kg for the first grade and ₹39 for the second grade. The escalation of transport costs due to increasing fuel price has straightaway impacted the price in the retail markets.
Growers keep away
The prime reason for this stalemate is a strange phenomenon, which forced more than 80% of the tomato growers keeping away from cultivation due to the COVID years.
“Going by the acute slump in the production since a fortnight, the tomato price might even cross the ₹150 to ₹200-a-kilo mark by May last week. The ongoing Jatara (mass village festivals) season elsewhere in the Rayalaseema region will further contribute to the skyrocketing of the prices of the vegetable,” said Manjunath Kokkanti, a traditional tomato grower at Valmikipuram in Annamayya district.
The seedling for the fresh batch of tomatoes commenced a couple of days ago in Annamayya and Chittoor districts, followed by the neighboring Kolar and Chintamani areas in Karnataka.
It is expected that the growers would be able to reap the harvest from June last week or early July. Till then, the projection of tomato prices looks disturbing.
The growers, however, lament that they received no guidance from the officials of the Horticulture or Marketing Departments. They deplored that fearing the COVID lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, coupled with the Omicron spread and the threat of a fourth wave this year, cultivation in the entire tomato belt in Madanapalle and surrounding areas had come to a grinding halt in 2022, while fewer than 20% of farmers ventured to take the risk.
Several growers deplored that when they suffered huge losses when the tomato price touched ₹5 or even a kg and when they abandoned the crops to the cattle and at the roadside in the last two years, the officials never broached the idea of purchasing the stocks.
As the marketing officials are contemplating steps to purchase the stocks at the wholesale market and sell them at the Rythu Bazaars, this would be done in a smaller quantity by the government to hoodwink the consumers and as a face-saving tactic.
In reality, it would adversely hit the prospects of regular traders, and bring down the prices in the wholesale market in no time, they observed.