Mumbai: An eight-fold surge in tomato prices is making some Indian farmers rich, although their windfall gains may be short-lived due to a likely rise in supplies in the coming weeks.
Retail prices of tomatoes were at Rs178 ($2.20) a kilogram in Delhi on Sunday, a jump of more than 700 per cent from January 1, according to data compiled by the food ministry. The national average was almost 120 rupees that day.
The hike, caused by heavy rains disrupting supplies, has hit consumer nerves, with many households temporarily forgoing tomatoes - an essential element of mainstay Indian dishes. But growers are elated.
Ishwar Gaykar said he and his wife Sonali, who grow tomatoes on 12 acres (4.9 hectares) of land near Junnar in the western state of Maharashtra, have made a profit of about Rs24 million so far in the current season, compared with 1.5 million a year earlier.
The couple, who employ 60 to 70 daily workers to manage the fields, have emerged as one of the biggest suppliers of tomatoes in the region. Ishwar has gained celebrity status as local media outlets are lining up for interviews.
The couple have supplied about 350 tons in recent weeks, and expect to sell another 150 tons soon, provided the weather condition doesn’t deteriorate. They reap three harvests every year, with the current crop being 120 to 140 days old.
Supplies have been hit by transport disruptions following heavy monsoon rains and floods in some regions, and inflation is set to increase as other vegetables have also become more expensive. The issue has become front-page news, and is being hotly debated on social media, with consumers blaming the rain god and the authorities alike for the situation.
The government has started selling tomatoes at subsidized rates at many locations, deploying mobile vans. It’s showing some impact, but prices are still very high for consumers in a country of 1.4 billion people. Tomatoes generally cost more in the rainy months of July and August, but the spike has been unusual this year.
While prices are expected to fall in the coming weeks with an improvement in truck movements, growers are rejoicing in their current good fortunes.
“I have never seen my produce getting this high a rate,” said Mahendra Nikam, whose tomatoes fetched as much as Rs130 per kilogram in Surat, a city in the state of Gujarat. “Less than two months ago, farmers were literally forced to throw away tomatoes or feed the fruit-bearing plants to the cattle.”