Vegetable prices hit alarming heights as rain takes toll on supply chain

The government announces a tomato hackathon, claims improved supplies from Himachal Pradesh will lead to an immediate decline in prices despite their inherent vulnerability

Representative image of tomatoes (photo: IANS)
Representative image of tomatoes (photo: IANS)

NH Digital

As rain continues to wreak havoc across the country, the prices of green vegetables, particularly tomatoes, have surged, adding to the woes of consumers.

The dual impact of rain-induced supply disruptions and traffic disruptions has caused vegetable prices to double within a mere seven days. This sudden and substantial price hike reflects the challenges faced by farmers and the agricultural supply chain, amplifying concerns over the affordability and accessibility of essential food items.

As the rain persists and its repercussions deepen, the implications for consumers and the economy have become increasingly pronounced. Multiple reasons have contributed to the price rise, but the incessant rains have had the most significant impact on inflation. Prices have surged from Rs 10-20 per kg to Rs 80-100 per kg due to limited supply caused by crop damage from heavy rainfall and extreme heat.

On Saturday, the government announced a Tomato Grand Challenge (TGC) hackathon to invite innovative ideas at various levels of the tomato value chain to ensure the availability of tomatoes to consumers at affordable prices and help tomato farmers get value for the produce.

The Grand Challenge invites ideas on comprehensive and focused area interventions in the tomato value chain, from cropping and market insights for the farmers to appropriate cultivars (OP varieties or hybrids) with higher shelf-life of the fruits for the new marker.

The government hopes the proposed cultivars (when people take species of plants and breed them for specific traits, such as taste, colour, or resistance to pests) are specifically suitable for processing and value-addition through interventions that can increase shelf-life, improve transportation of fresh and processing products, and innovative packaging and storage.

Though tomatoes were the first to signal trouble, as prices surged to Rs 135 per kg in some regions, the rising trend has now engulfed other vegetables, including onions, potatoes, brinjals, ginger, and green chillies.

The disruption of transportation caused by the monsoon is the immediate reason for the price hike, as it has hampered the movement of vegetables. Additionally, the failure of timely rain in certain areas has adversely affected production, leading to a decrease in the availability of vegetables in the market.

This supply-demand imbalance has further propelled prices to soar. However, the price surge cannot be solely attributed to the monsoon's impact and logistical issues. Other contributing factors have independently aggravated the situation, escalating the current price.

India, is the second-largest producer of vegetables and fruits globally after China, enjoys an advantage due to the diversity of crops grown in different agro-climatic conditions. This ensures a continuous supply even if one region faces crop failure.

Experts point out that these crops are highly sensitive to climate extremes, as demonstrated by the impact of heat waves, unseasonal rains in Rajasthan, and heavy rains in Karnataka on tomato production. Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are the leading tomato producers in the country.

However, the need for more infrastructure and logistical support for storage and transportation poses a significant challenge. Cold storage facilities, particularly for perishable vegetables like tomatoes and fruits, are essential to prevent wastage and stabilise prices during production times.

Despite the government's claims of improving the infrastructure, a substantial amount of vegetables and fruits are wasted yearly, with distressing images of farmers discarding produce on the roads being a common sight.

During a media briefing on Saturday, consumer affairs secretary Rohit Kumar Singh acknowledged that tomato prices had reached high levels and emphasised the seasonality in price cycles. He mentioned that improved supplies from the Solan and Sirmaur districts of Himachal Pradesh would immediately decline tomato prices in the national capital.

However, media reports said the secretary highlighted the inherent vulnerability of tomatoes as a highly perishable commodity, subject to weather fluctuations and transportation challenges. The June-August and October-November periods are lean production seasons, and it is typical to observe a sharp price increase during these periods.

Singh emphasised the impact of weather vulnerability due to climate change and other issues on tomato supplies. "Transportation remains a significant issue, given the commodity's limited shelf life and the difficulty of long-distance transport. As the situation unfolds, it is clear that tackling these challenges and ensuring stability in vegetable prices will require comprehensive efforts from the government, industry stakeholders, and the agricultural sector as a whole," he said.

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