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Tomato price rise: Farmers in Andhra say that is only part of the whole story

All-year demand, the pressures of cultivating tomato off season and changing climate are making life difficult for Chittoor’s farmers

When tomato prices hit through the roof recently, the government intervened to lower the prices. But for farmers in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district, one of India’s major tomato-growing areas, the government’s action shows its bias for urban consumers and its neglect for rural farmers who are bearing the brunt of a changing climate.

The retail prices of tomatoes, which touched Rs 130, skyrocketed in the wake of devastating rains across southern India, including Chittoor.

They added that while there was a big hue and cry after the prices increased, nobody had bothered about their plight in the past, when there was a glut and produce had to be dumped for want of buyers.

“No one took note of the Rs 100 charged for a 30 kg tomato box in June this year. Now the same is selling for Rs 1,800 per box. Losses due to climatic conditions also dent the produce which the politicians don’t factor in while intervening to ease the burden on urban consumers,” G Sreenivasa Kumar, a farmer from Madanapalli mandal (division) in Chittoor district, told this reporter.

Madanapalli hosts the biggest tomato market yard in Asia. It supplies its produce to all metropolitan cities in South India.

Farmers in Chittoor also told this reporter about how cultivating tomatoes had become a risky venture in the face of climate change. The growth of the hospitality industry, especially hotels, has made it imperative for growing tomatoes and other vegetables throughout the year.

“Earnings from tomatoes have become a jackpot now and are not certain. There have been years when I have earned Rs 2 lakh and lost Rs 1.5 lakh the next year. This happens to 70-80 per cent of farmers,” Y Fayaz Basha, a tomato farmer from Tattivaripalli village of Madanapalli mandal, who has been cultivating tomatoes for six years now, said.

Basha added:

One now requires to put in Rs 3 lakh per acre to get a good tomato yield. There have been times when I have left the vegetable in the field without plucking it. If we have to get back what we invested this time, we need the price to hover around Rs 30 per kg and Rs 50 to recoup our lost investment in the previous years.

Farmers also said tomato yield was good if cultivated between March and the first week of August in the western region of the Chittoor district.

The yield falls if cultivated between August and December due to rains and moisture in the weather. The increased prices barely cover the increased costs on more usage of insecticides and pesticides, K Murali, a farmer from Pashamvaripalli village of Madanapalli mandal, said.

U Koteshwara Rao, additional joint director (horticulture) of Palamaner in the district said, “Cultivation of vegetables between August and December is fraught with difficulties. If it rains more, leaf spot, anthraxnose, fruit rot and sucking pests increase due to moisture,” he said.

Rao added:

The flowering also suffers as they drop off from the plant. Even spraying of fungicides does not help as they are washed by the next day’s rain. The root of the plant also rots due to stagnating water. The plants will get a new lease of life with new leaves only if it becomes sunny again for the next five days.

Acreage of tomato in Chittoor district over the years 

Serial Number

Year

Area (In acres)

1

2014-15

49,774

2

2015-16

49,991

3

2016-17

57,358

4

2017-18

81,273

5

2018-19

81,273

6

2019-20

79,303

7

2020-21

67,390

Source: Director of horticulture, Chittoor district

Rao said farmers were reluctant to take up tomato cultivation because of heavy rains.  Vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes and chillies need land where water does not stagnate and moisture in the land should also be less.

Indeed, some of the land in what was once the tomato belt of Chittoor had been converted to paddy this season, B Srinivasulu, deputy director (horticulture), Chittoor district, said.

Farmers like B Krishna Reddy from Kammalapalli village of B Kothakota mandal desisted from taking up tomato cultivation as he faced losses continuously in the last two years.

“I took up paddy cultivation as my land was marshy due to filled-up water ponds due to copious rain and not suitable for tomatoes,” he said.

Officials have pegged the losses of the tomato crop at around 1,509 hectares in the district and said it will be reduced as water receded from fields.

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