New Delhi: Consumers are shedding tears in the vegetable markets again, but the culprit this year is tomato, and not onion.
Retail as well as wholesale prices of tomato have more than doubled to as high as Rs 80/kg in several places as unseasonal rains in the southern states have hit supply. In the southern states particularly, the prices rose to as much as Rs 140/kg in some cities, breaching the psychological mark of Rs 100/kg.
The crisis worsened to the extent that the Tamil Nadu government was forced to distribute tomatoes at subsidised rates of Rs 85-100/kg.
According to Ministry of Consumer Affairs data, the all-India modal (most common across the country) retail price of tomato stood at Rs 40/kg on 1 October. This surged to Rs 50/kg by the month-end and touched Rs 80/kg on 23 November — a 100 per cent rise within two months.
This inflation in prices was worse in southern India. In Thiruvananthapuram, the commodity was priced at Rs 103/kg. The same was at Rs 90/kg in Hyderabad, Rs 88/kg in Bengaluru and Rs 143/kg in Port Blair. In national capital Delhi, the price of this kitchen staple rose to as high as Rs 75-90/kg on 26 November.
In the Azadpur wholesale market, there was a 60 per cent fall in tomato supply — from 489.2 tonnes to 192.3 tonnes — within a week (18-25 November), with a corresponding price hike.
A few months ago, a similar supply dip and price rise was registered in tomatoes when the average rate jumped nearly 300 per cent in the festive season, with prices touching Rs 60-70/kg.
Meanwhile, the price of onions, which had crossed the Rs 100/kg mark several times in the last two years, stood at Rs 30/kg on 1 October. It rose to Rs 40/kg by the end of the month and then stayed put.
Situation unlikely to improve for a few months
Speaking about the high prices, Mintu Chauhan, a tomato wholesale trader in the Azadpur market, pointed to the heavy unseasonal rainfall in southern India.
“The southern states, especially Karnataka, are the major suppliers of tomatoes during this time of the year. However, due to heavy unseasonal rainfall in the region, the standing and ready-to-be-harvested crops have been severely damaged. Due to this, the early maturing varieties from nearby states like Maharashtra are being supplied to the southern region instead,” he said.
“The situation is unlikely to improve soon as the crops from these states used to make up for most winter supplies across the country. Only from mid-January and February, the arrival and price will start getting better with new crops from MP, UP and Maharashtra,” Chauhan added.
There were unseasonal rains in the northern states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh too from September-end, leading to crop damage and delayed arrival, which already increased tomato prices. The heavy rains that followed in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, further disrupted the supply.
In a statement on 26 November, the central government estimated kharif production in the current year at 69.52 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) compared to 70.12 LMT last year. Arrivals in November stood at 19.62 LMT compared to 21.32 LMT in the year-ago period.
According to a CRISIL report released last week, standing tomato crops were damaged because of excess rains in Karnataka (105 per cent above normal), Andhra Pradesh (40 per cent) and Maharashtra (22 per cent).
Since these states are key suppliers during the October-December period, tomato prices have risen 142 per cent on a year-on-year basis as of 25 November, and will remain elevated for two more months till harvest from Madhya Pradesh and other states starts reaching the markets, the report added.
Azadpur wholesale trader Budhi Raja Singh said unseasonal rains have damaged almost every vegetable crop this year, leading to supply constraints and price hikes.
“However, tomatoes have been the worst affected as in initial monsoon months, rains destroyed key crops of Himachal and nearby states, and now the southern states have witnessed crop devastation in late monsoon rains. Daily arrival of trucks laden with tomatoes in mandi have fallen from 45-50 to just 8-12 now,” Singh said.
The situation is grimmer for traders in southern states.
“We make future contracts with farmers here and buyers in states like Gujarat, UP and Delhi to supply tomato produce in bulk, but everything has been washed away with rains this season,” said Mukesh Kumar, a wholesale tomato merchant in Karnataka’s Kolar market.
“Even if the money of the contract is returned, there is at least a loss of Rs 12-15 lakh for sure on packaging materials purchased in anticipation of trade for this season,” he said.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)