From Rs 30 a kg to Rs 80 in a month, tomato prices shoot up with rising temeratures and falling production
After wheat, mango, litchi and lemon, farmers who grow tomatoes have reported low production as the heatwave dries up the tomato flowers before they fruit. Because of low availability of tomatoes, their prices have hit the roof.
Sumit Yadav 8 Jun 2022 4:09 PM GMT
Unnao, Uttar Pradesh
Being a vital ingredient in the preparation of curries, tomatoes are one of the most sought after vegetables in Indian cooking. However, millions of Indians are finding it difficult to afford their regular meal of sabzi (vegetable curries) as production of tomatoes has taken a hit due to the heatwaves.
Low production has led to the tomato prices (retail) soaring from Rs 30 per kilogramme (kg) last month to Rs 80 a kg now, a jump of almost three times within a month.
"The garam hawayen (heatwaves) are not letting the tomato flower stay on the plant and mature into a fruit. The flowers dry off and fall on the field and the fruit never gets formed!" Lakhan Lodhi, a 52-year-old farmer from Uttar Pradesh's Unnao district who has been cultivating tomatoes for the last 20 years, told Gaon Connection.
"In April, I was harvesting almost 150 crates [each crate weighing 25 kilogrammes] from a bigha [quarter of an hectare] of land. These days, I am barely harvesting 10 to 12 such crates," the farmer from Balau Khera village in Sikandarpur Karn block said. "The prices are record high no doubt but with such low production, even the high prices don't mean much. I am just able to recover my laagat [input costs]," said Lodhi, who has taken land on rent to cultivate tomatoes.
Tomato crop isn't the only crop affected by the heatwaves. In March this year, heatwaves arrived early, which has led to a drop in the production of several crops including wheat, mango, lemon, litchi and peppermint.
Agricultural scientists blame untimely heat and soaring temperatures for the crop losses, as March to May months are crucial for flowering and fruit development and any sudden change in the temperature affects the growth process.
"The heatwaves and temperatures above 40 degrees centigrade are a death knell for the tomato plant. It needs a temperature of 20 to 25 degrees for optimum production of the fruit but the heatwaves whose intensity and frequency have increased in the recent years has made it difficult for farmers to cultivate tomatoes," Dheeraj Tiwari, the principal scientist at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (farm science centre) in Unnao's Dhaura told Gaon Connection.
Tomato production in India
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, India stands second in tomato production in the world next only to China.
"The major Tomato producing states in the country are Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Odisha, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. These states account for about 90% of the total production of the country," it stated in its monthly report for October, 2o19.
But this year, rising heat has badly affected the tomato crop and farmers in Uttar Pradesh are terming it 'unprecedented' low production.
Twenty-six-year-old Dheeraj Patel's tomato field is located in Dawatpur village in Bichhiya block of Unnao. "The loss in the production of tomatoes is indeed unprecedented," he complained to Gaon Connection.
"I harvested more than twice the yield from my field in the same months [May-June] last year. It was no less than 20 to 22 crates last year but this year I have barely managed to harvest 10 crates somehow," Patel said.
Ram Niwas Yadav, the district horticulture officer in Unnao informed Gaon Connection that tomatoes are cultivated across an acreage of 590 hectares in the district. According to a 2020 research article, in Uttar Pradesh, average area under tomato is 10.6 thousand hectares with an average annual production of 540.67 thousand metric tonnes.
Rising demand, faltering supply
Irfan Quraishi, a 25-year-old vegetable trader from Unnao's Achalganj town told Gaon Connection that the stocks of locally grown tomatoes have been exhausted and the vegetable market in the district is now dependent on supplies from states like Maharashtra.
"It is seen that tomato prices rise in the month of June but the prices have never been so high," Quraishi said. "The cheapest tomatoes are being sold at Rs 80 per kilogramme in Unnao. The price is more than double the usual price here. The demand is soaring with every passing day and the supply of tomatoes from other states is unable to cope up," he added.
Meanwhile, owner of a restaurant in the same locality, Dharmendra Chauhan told Gaon Connection that the small food outlets in the rural areas will have to suffer huge losses if the prices of tomatoes don't come down.
"We just cannot do business without tomatoes. We are forced to buy tomatoes at prices thrice as expensive as last year's summers. No matter what, it has to be available in the kitchen for us to ensure that we serve what we have on the menu," Chauhan said. "The entire hotel industry is gradually recovering from the losses sustained due to the two consecutive years wasted in the COVID pandemic," he added.
"Also, the rising heatwave conditions have made it difficult for the tomatoes to be transported or stored. It is impossible to store them without refrigeration as they spoil within a day in such heat. I think it is a contributing factor to the price rise of tomatoes," the restaurant owner said.
The rise in tomato prices can be gauged from the fact that Lakhan Lodhi, the tomato farmer from Balau Khera village said that he was getting Rs 1,300 for a crate of tomato — a multifold rise from the usual rate of Rs 250-Rs 300 which he has got in the last few years. However, low production means no profits.
"If farmers can set up polyhouses at their fields to protect their plants from the blazing heat, it is possible that the production of tomatoes can increase," said principal scientist Dheeraj Tiwari. "Also, constant spraying of water is needed to ensure that the plants have sufficient moisture and do not succumb to the dehydrating heatwave," he added.