Farmers, traders, or shopkeepers — who's benefiting from soaring lemon prices?

Amidst record-high lemon prices across the country, Gaon Connection approached farmers, traders and small shopkeepers on the streets to understand on which level of the supply chain are the high prices having the greatest impact. Here's what we found.

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Farmers, traders, or shopkeepers — whos benefiting from soaring lemon prices?

A chilled glass of lemonade has soothed Videshvari Devi through blistering summers all her life but for the first time in 65 years she hasn't tasted even a drop of her favourite beverage in the summer season so far.

"Pasand to bahut hai lekin kaunhau dawayi to hai nahin jo jaroori hai… jab madda hoi neembu tab lebey," Videshvari Devi, a rural resident of Belhara village in Uttar Pradesh's Barabanki district told Gaon Connection. [I like it a lot but it isn't a medicine without which life cannot go on… I'll drink it when the lemon prices come down]

The 65-year-old is amongst the millions of Indians who are refraining from the use of lemons in their diets owing to the record-high prices of the citrus fruit. In Uttar Pradesh's capital Lucknow, lemons were found to be sold at Rs 10 per piece on April 15 — a price that hasn't been reported ever before.

Source: National Horticulture Board (NHB)

Unfavourable weather, low production, unprecedented prices

About 300 kilometres away from Videshvari Devi's house in Barabanki, Gaon Connection travelled to a farmer's lemon orchard Madhya Pradesh's Satna in order to understand the ground conditions at the production end of the crisis.

"The ripening of the flower hasn't taken place so far in my orchard as well as in the orchards of the other farmers in the region. The intense cold wave followed by a scorching heat wave has disturbed the production of lemons. There is negligible production of lemons across the region as a result of which vegetable wholesalers are getting lemons from the southern states which have themselves reported a low yield this year," Abhayraj Singh, a lemon farmer from Satna's Poindhakala village told Gaon Connection.

"The high fuel prices have also had an impact on the transportation cost of lemons. So adverse weather conditions and high fuel prices have led to the skyrocketing of the lemon prices in the country. I hope my orchards will bear fruits after it rains otherwise I'll have to sustain serious losses," Singh added.

Meanwhile, an agricultural scientist from a krishi vigyan kendra [farm science centre] told Gaon Connection that there is indeed a strong link between extreme weather and low yield of lemons in the country.

Photo by Ramji Mishra

"Basically, the lemons are not yet ripe to be plucked from the orchards in states like Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. The chilly winds during the winters have impacted the lemon production which was followed by record-breaking temperatures right in the month of March. Such rapid changes in weather conditions wreak havoc on horticultural production. Also, the leading states of lemon production are in southern India. There too, the yield is compromised due to floods and high temperature," Dheeraj Tiwari, a scientist at Unnao's Dhaura farm science centre told Gaon Connection.

'High prices, little sale and no change in profits'

According to the data published by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority on its official website, Andhra Pradesh is the leading producer of lemons in the country followed by Gujarat, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

When Gaon Connection approached a representative of a lemon-trading company from Andhra Pradesh, it was informed that last year's floods and this year's premature heat waves have adversely impacted the production of lemons in the state.

Aritakula Prasad, managing director of a lemon production and supply company in Andhra Pradesh's Eluru told Gaon Connection that this year's yield has merely been 40 per cent of the normal production for the season.

"We supply lemons to almost every state in northern India including West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi. Let me assure you that the high prices of lemons have little impact on the profit of companies like ours. There is a high demand for lemons and the prices are hitting the roof but it doesn't necessarily mean that people are willing to buy the lemons as well," Prasad said.

"It is a superficial understanding of the market which makes people think that high demand and high prices of a commodity translates into better profits for suppliers like us. What we need to do is to look closely into the matter and understand that when the prices are so high, traders keep their orders low as investing too much money in a commodity that's temporarily expensive is a gamble. Nobody can guarantee that the lemon prices will remain high after a week and it takes almost a week for a cargo to reach Delhi from Andhra Pradesh," he added.

In order to understand how and when the prices of lemons will drop in near future, Gaon Connection approached Jagatnarayan Singh, a lemon farmer in Uttar Pradesh's Barabanki who stated that yield is expected to rise after it rains.

Photo by Virendra Singh

"During the next two months (May-June), lemon yield in our state [Uttar Pradesh] will also contribute to the local markets. Also, nearby states are highly likely to witness a rise in yield after the start of monsoon. The prices will hopefully come down after a couple of weeks," Singh said.

Also, when approached by Gaon Connection to know more about the sellers who are the bottom of the supply chain, Deepak Kumar Kashyap, a shopkeeper from Uttar Pradesh's Sitapur stated that the high demand of lemons is talk of the town but hardly are people actually buying it.

"No matter if a person is rich or poor, spending ten rupees for a lemon is something everybody thinks twice about. I am experiencing lesser profits from lemons as my stock is about to dry up in this heat much before it gets sold. I hope prices return to normalcy as it is affecting vegetable sellers like us," he said.

With inputs from Virendra Singh in Barabanki, Sumit Yadav in Unnao, Sachin Tulsa Tripathi in Satna, Ramji Mishra in Sitapur and Pratyaksh Srivastava in Lucknow.

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