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Early ripening leaves tomato farmers red-faced

Vishnu Pandey  |  Kanpur 

The rise in global temperature has started taking a toll on the tomato farmers and wholesale dealers of the region. More than 25,000 tomato farmers have incurred severe losses this year due to the premature ripening of the fruit in plantations spread across thousands of acres in the neighbouring areas like Ishwariganj and Pratapur.

The crop, which fetched over Rs 1,200 a quintal last year, is now selling for less than Rs 50 a quintal, thanks to the surge in arrivals due to an early harvest. Under normal conditions, a mere 30-40 per cent of the total crop is ready to enter the market at this time of the year. This year, around 80 per cent of the produce has been already sold to avoid rotting.

The wholesale merchants blame the abnormally high day temperature during November for the spiralling losses. “We had reached prior agreements with farmers and plantation owners to sell their produce, but our expectations have been proved wrong by the unforeseen climate change,” said Raghavendra Singh, member of Kanpur Vegetable and Fruits Merchants Association (KVFMA).

The state is one of the major producers of guava, next only to Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, but this year, the export market has been affected by the low quality of the produce.

“Last year,more than 50-60 trucks of tomatoes were being transported to neighbouring states like Haryana, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, but this year the harvest is being consumed locally as the shelf life has reduced drastically,” Singh added.

Agriculture scientist at the Chandra Shekhar Agricultural University (CSA), professor R P Katiyar told Business Standard that the extreme heat during the day and cold at night has resulted in premature ripening and if the weather persists, the entire local produce may get exhausted in next 15 days, leading to shortage thereafter.

The peasants are severely hit by the lowest prices in the last five years, and are not being able to recover even 25 per cent of their investments. “If the government does not take timely initiatives to salvage us, we may consider cutting down the plantations and cultivating wheat and other crops,” said Ram Avataar. This year only 15-16 trucks of the produce are being transported across the state.

According to Raghavendra, the plantation they bought for Rs 2-3 lakh is fetching a mere Rs 20,000-30,000. “We cannot but accept the losses as we are bound with the legal agreements signed prior to the produce. We expected good crop, seeing the adequate and timely monsoons, but the heat has ruined us,” Singh said.

But the agony does not end here. Market prices are still hovering around Rs 6-8 a kg, as the middlemen are raking in huge profits at the cost of farmers and consumers as the retail prices remain at Rs 12 a kg or Rs 1,200 a quintal.

First Published: Thu, January 29 2009. 00:00 IST