New Delhi: A mysterious virus, which has been causing premature ripening, has destroyed tomato crop in Maharashtra leading to severe farmer distress in the districts of Nashik, Ahmednagar, Satara and Pune.
Farmers of these regions have lost about 60-80 per cent of the crop in the last 10 days. The virus has also led to discolouration of the crop and has led to tomatoes developing pits that turn black from the inside.
Farmers are now calling it the ‘Tiranga’ virus as they say it has been turning their crop into stripes of red, yellow and green.
Rajendra Kondiba, a tomato farmer from Karad village in Satara district, told ThePrint that his five acres of tomato crop, which he planted in March, has been completely destroyed.
“Due to heavy demand, tomatoes are harvested throughout the year. May is my second plucking when I usually harvest 350 crates, but this time I have managed to harvest only 120 crates of tomatoes,” Kondiba said.
“Normally a tomato starts decomposing after 3-4 days of getting plucked but the ones that are getting infected by the new Tiranga virus are turning black within 12 hours,” he added, while further saying that he suspects that the virus could be a new form of the cucumber mosaic virus and that it could spread to other crops if it is not controlled.
Tomato is a major kitchen staple, due to which it is sowed and harvested throughout the year. A normal tomato crop can be harvested two months after it is sowed.
Lockdown prevents scientists from identifying virus
The complaints of tomato crops getting devastated by the mysterious virus began pouring in from late April but the Covid-19 lockdown has prevented scientists from identifying it and determining the source so as to contain the spread.
A scientist from the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR), Varanasi, on the condition of anonymity, told ThePrint that the virus will have to be contained soon.
“All the major tomato producing states such as Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat border Maharashtra where the outbreak of this mysterious virus has occurred,” the scientist said. “Along with finding the cause and cure for the virus, our main focus is on containing it, as it may lead to countrywide devastation of tomato crop if it spills over to these neighbouring states”
The scientist, however, said the virus cannot harm the human body as the receptors required for the entry of viruses into human cells are completely different from those of plants.
Traders too hit by virus
The spread of the mysterious virus has not only distressed the farmers but also traders who export the tomato crop abroad. Most of Indian tomato produce in summer is exported to countries such as Bangladesh, the Maldives, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman, among others.
Vijay Salve, owner of Raj Agro export, told ThePrint, “We used to export around one lakh tonnes of tomato just to Dubai itself from January to May but it has fallen to mere 20,000 tonnes because of the lockdown leading to complete disruption in the supply chain.
“Now even if the lockdown gets completely lifted, we can’t export any tomato this year as you never know which crop is affected by the virus and which is not. The countries will not allow such disease-laden produce,” Salve added.
According to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) website, India ranks second globally in tomato production.