Why are lemon prices so high in India, the largest producer of lemons in the world?

Heavy rains last September and October and a hot March have caused two successive lemon seasons to fail

By DTE Staff
Published: Saturday 16 April 2022

Lemons are trending on Twitter and other social media outlets. There is a sudden explosion of cartoons, jokes and memes on the topic. The reason is the lemon price inflation in the country.

In some cities, the price is as high as Rs 350 per kg for the citrus fruit, compared to Rs 40 per kg a few months ago. That means a single lemon will cost you around Rs 10-15.

Lemons are actually competing with petrol, liquified petroleum gas and gold in the current price rise battle. But why is this happening in India? The country that is the largest producer of lemons in the world!

India produces approximately 17 per cent of the world’s lemons. It is grown in orchards spanning a combined 3.17 lakh acres across the country. Andhra Pradesh is the highest lemon-growing state with 1.1 lakh acres under the fruit cultivation, followed by Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha and Tamil Nadu.

Lemon cultivation requires a warm, moderately dry and moist climate. However, exposure to heavy rainfall induces bacterial diseases in orchards. According to researcher and scientist, AA Murkute, principal scientist for the CRRI, farmers supply the fruit round the year by inducing flowering through the ‘bahar’ treatment.

Lemon growers take three bahars or seasons in a year, namely Ambe, Mrig and Hasta. During Ambe bahar, flowering takes place from January to February with fruit formation happening in April.

During Mrig bahar, orchards bloom during June and July and the harvest happens in October. And in Hasta bahar, flowering is from September to October with harvest happening in March. These bahars overlap and farmers have lemons round the year to market.

Currently, the lemons that we are getting in the market are mainly dependent on the Hasta bahar and the subsequent Ambe bahar, which have been a failure this time around.

The months of September and October in 2021, had brought in exceptionally heavy rains. Lemon orchards are extremely sensitive to excess moisture, and thus, due to heavy rainfall, and flowering did not happen.

Another reason is the soaring temperatures post-February, which has caused the younger fruit to drop off. Adding to these, a cyclone in Gujarat and high transportation costs due to fuel price hike, is making the situation worse.

In summers, the demand for lemons hits an all-year high. This is when the Hasta bahar and Ambe bahar feed the market. But the excessive moisture and the sudden soaring temperatures have hit the production.

Farmers and traders say this is one of the rarest years when two consecutive bahars have failed. Going ahead, chances are grim for a price correction to happen any time soon. The next crop expected to reach the market will be ready only by October.

At present, some supplies from the Ambe bahar are cycling the market, but with one of the hottest March in 122 years and a prolonged heatwave in north India, this supply may not be enough to meet the demand.

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