Just why are tomato prices going north? Dalwai Report offers clues

Issues like cold chain, modern pack houses and pooling points, along with transport arrangements from villages have not been given much attention, according to the report

By Vivek Mishra
Published: Friday 30 June 2023
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The prices of the humble tomato are creating a hue and cry across India. But why? The answers to this may be found in the report of the Dalwai Committee, which recommended doubling the income of the farmers.

The report had made many recommendations for better buying and selling of potatoes, onions and tomatoes and for the facilities of the farmers. According to the Dalwai Committee report, 58 per cent of tomatoes are sold by farmers to private traders. Processors do not buy tomatoes from farmers.

Neither cooperative institutions nor agencies of the government show interest in this purchase. That is why the farmer is forced to sell the tomato crop to private players.

The tomato is perishable and has to be sold within a very short period.

The report of the Dalwai Committee laid special emphasis on the link between farmer income and tomato losses. The report described the tomato as a “sensitive product for mass consumption”.

The report urged strengthening the supply chain for tomatoes. For this, Operation Green was launched, that included a scheme to deliver produce directly from the farm to the consumer. But its effect was not visible.

According to the report and recommendations of the Dalwai Committee, issues like cold chain, modern pack houses and pooling points along with transport arrangements from the village have not been given much attention.

Nor has any such body been formed in which members of central and state governments and institutions and agricultural universities are included and they give advance guidance regarding crops like tomato in every season.

Sky-high prices 

The maximum retail prices of tomatoes reached Rs 122 per kilogram on June 27, 2023, according to the Price Monitoring Division of the Department of Consumer Affairs. Meanwhile, farmers have been forced to sell tomatoes at a maximum wholesale price of Rs 10 to private traders.

Mohan Reddy, who runs the Farmers Producer Organisation in Chowdepalle, Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh, told Down To Earth (DTE) he had sold tomatoes for up to Rs 3 a kg in the season from January to February. His tomatoes were bought by private traders for a paltry Rs 10.

Reddy said the cost of growing tomatoes per acre was Rs 2-3 lakh. “If we talk in kilograms, the cost of growing tomatoes per kg is Rs 8 to 10. We are not even able to recover the cost,” he added.

He also pointed out that the curl leaf virus was becoming dominant every year and was causing damage to tomato crops. The tomato crop has been damaged this year too by this virus.

Tomatoes are sold to traders in boxes, a box containing about 15 kg of tomatoes. 

P Chengal Reddy, president of the Federation of Farmers Associations, told DTE that much of the tomato crop had been destroyed in South India due to rains in the last few months. Consequently, the production had come down.

“Farmers have been able to get tomatoes at the maximum rate of Rs 10 per kg in the market yard. Due to crop failure, the retail prices of tomatoes have increased in the last week itself, which will become normal in the next 10-15 days,” he said.

Lalramdinpui Renthlei, joint director of the Price Monitoring Division at the Department of Consumer Affairs, said:

It is a seasonal thing. Every year, till new arrivals arrive, tomato prices increase during the season. Due to erratic rains, the tomato crop has also deteriorated. However, with the arrival of the new crop, prices will return to normal.

According to the Department of Consumer Affairs, the countrywide variability in tomato prices during June has ranged from a minimum price of Rs 10 to a maximum price of Rs 122. According to P Chengal Reddy, private traders are responsible for these fluctuations in prices.

In the production year 2021-22, there were 20.69 million tonnes of tomatoes while in 2022-23 only 20.62 million tonnes of tomatoes are estimated. Tomato prices may come down in the next 15 to 20 days but farmers are proving unable to recover the cost.

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