Tomato price hike: Traders call Delhi Govt’s enquiry an “eyewash”

Traders and experts believe that heavy rains are the reason behind rising tomato prices. It’s not feasible to stock or hoard tomatoes

NH Photo
NH Photo

Dhairya Maheshwari

Traders at Asia’s largest vegetable and fruits wholesale market at Azadpur have come down heavily on Delhi Government’s Food and Civil Supplies Minister Imran Hussain for hoodwinking the public on rising tomato prices.

“He doesn’t even know that tomato is perishable and, hence, cannot be stocked,” Ashok Kaushik, the President of Azadpur Mandi Tomatoes’ Sellers Association and owner of Hindustan Tomatoes Company (HTC) told National Herald.

Hussain had last month asked the Commissioner of Food and Civil Supplies to look into the reasons contributing to spiking tomato prices, including instances of hoarding and black-marketing. Hussain couldn’t be reached for a comment for this story.

Kaushik explained that the rising tomato prices were entirely due to heavy pre-monsoon showers that hit Himachal Pradesh last month, where “90 per cent of the fruit is produced this time of the year.”

Kaushik informed that tomato was selling for ₹35-45 per kilogram at the wholesale market in Delhi, from where the fruit is distributed to regional centres in the northern region. The retail price of tomato has touched ₹85-100 a kilogram in cities across northern India, including in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh among others.

Rajendra Sharma, the President of an Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) at Azadpur, told NH that Hussain’s move to order an enquiry into hoarding was “nothing but a political eyewash.”

“We don’t have enough cold storage facilities to stock tomatoes. The farmers wouldn’t have dumped their tomatoes on roads if it could be stocked,” Sharma said, referring to recent instances of tomato farmers dumping their harvest in different parts of the country.

“Tomatoes were in oversupply then, so farmers were making as less as 50 paisa a kilogram. They would have incurred additional cost on getting their produce transported to cities like Delhi, leave alone making profit. Dumping their fruit seemed like the most cost-effective option then,” Sharma explained.

“But now, the situation is complete opposite as we face a tomato shortage,” he added.

Dr Vikram Pandey, an agricultural scientist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) blamed the sharp hike in tomato prices over a last several weeks on supply-side bottlenecks.

"Heavy rainfall has adverse implications for the tomato crop. Not only have incessant rains across the tomato-producing states created scarcity and brought up prices, the rains have also made transportation of produce to cities more difficult," Dr Pandey told NH.

"Tomato is perishable and if it is on road for more than a few days, it is bound to go rotten," he added. The ICAR scientist further noted that it was only with improvements in transport infrastructure that tomato started becoming available in non-tomato growing regions of the country.

He also reckoned that authorities should help in establishing tomato-processing plants across the country. "If we had more of tomato processing facilities that could have churned out purees, ketchup and similar products, farmers wouldn't have to dump their tomatoes," Dr Pandey said.

Mintoo Chauhan, the Secretary of Azadpur Mandi Tomatoes’ Sellers Association and a tomato trader, said that it would take another three-four weeks for tomato prices to stabilise when the crop in Maharashtra was harvested and supplied to other parts of the country.

However, officials at the Maharashtra State Agriculture Marketing Board (MSAMB), are keeping their fingers crossed.

“The market will only stabilise if the rains stopped. It’s been raining heavily across the state. Only if the rains subside for three-four days will the local farmers be able to harvest their crop,” Dr Bhaskar Patil, a senior assistant manager at MSAMB’s office in Pune, told National Herald.

Dr Patil added Nasik, a major tomato-growing area in the state, had been receiving heavy rains over the last week.

Like officials from Delhi’s Azadpur Market, Dr Patil, too, discarded the theory that tomato prices are shooting up because of alleged hoarding of the fruit.

“Tomato is a perishable fruit and it is grown year-round in different parts of the country. But the monsoon has wreaked havoc on the tomato crop in Maharastra, affecting supply in other states such as Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, both states which are witnessing surging tomato prices.

Rakesh Kohli, the head of a company owning cold storage facilities in Delhi and Kashmir, said that tomatoes had a maximum shelf life of a month after harvest, if they are stored in cold conditions. “But we don’t receive requests for tomato storage. There hasn’t been much R&D into cold storage of tomato in our country. Most of our orders concern apples and other fruits,” Kohli, the CEO of Harshna Group of Companies, told National Herald.

He further explained that though the government offered loans to farmers to store their produce in cold storage, tomato preservation wasn’t what farmers usually enquire about.

What is Centre doing?

The spiking tomato prices seems to have caught Centre on the backfoot, with the government data from June reporting that the Wholesale Price Inflation (WPI) Index had declined by 3.47 per cent year-on-year basis. At 0.9 per cent, the WPI index last month was reported to be the lowest in nine months.

However, tomato prices have been following a different trajectory, rising by over 150 per cent over the last three months. In parts of country like in West Bengal, prices shot up by as much as 700 per cent, according to news reports.

It has been reported that in the wake of rising tomato prices, Centre dispatched teams of officials to major tomato-producing states, besides asking state government of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra to keep a tab on supply.

However, the intervention by the Centre seems to have done little as restaurants start to serve their products without tomato.

For instance, fast food chain McDonald’s is not serving tomato anymore in their offerings in outlets across Delhi.

"There have been concerns about the quality of the crop due to heavy rains of late," an employee at McDonald's Nehru Place outlet said.

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