BY VISHAL GULATI
Shimla, Nov 20 (IANS) Tomatoes turned the new ‘apple of eyes’ for the Himachal Pradesh farmers this season, literally.
The reason: lack of plantation amidst Covid-19 scare in the kharif cropping season has drastically reduced its overall production in Himachal Pradesh by 35-40 per cent, triggering a massive price hike for the vegetable in north Indian cities.
Currently, the tomatoes are selling between Rs 50 and Rs 65 per kg in Chandigarh and Delhi retail markets, much higher than the price of Rs 20 to Rs 25 they got last year at this point in time, say traders.
In Solan town, the hub of tomato plantation, its price ranging between Rs 40 and Rs 45 per kg in wholesale.
With majority of vegetables gone rotten in the fields, or lying unsold or unharvested due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown from April, the growers in the state were uncertain about the future of kharif crops from August to November, an official with the Agriculture Department familiar with the development told IANS.
He said the farmers opted less plantation of kharif vegetable crops owing to fear and uncertainty.
“Our vegetable crops largely remained unsold during the lockdowns. That is why we have decided to go for less plantation of vegetables during the kharif season. So was the low yield of most of the vegetables that led to shortage and rise in prices,” vegetable grower C.D. Verma of Jubbarhatti village, on the outskirts of the state capital, told IANS.
He said during the harvesting season of tomatoes in June-July, its production was good but there was no market owing to country-wide lockdown. Like other vegetables, most of the tomatoes remained either unsold or unharvested.
“The farmers who went for normal plantation despite uncertainty and odds, they are making money now,” an elated Verma added.
Trade representatives told IANS 80-90 per cent of the tomato crop in the state had sold out.
Puran Chand, an agent at Shimla market, said the supply of tomatoes from the local fields has declined with its harvesting almost over. “Now tomatoes from Delhi are meeting the local demand.”
Himachal Pradesh is a major tomato-producing state of the region. As per 2019-20 figures, tomato was grown in 13,185 hectares in the state. The total production in 2019-20 was 5,39,540 tonne against 5,02,422 tonne in 2018-19. It was 4,81,936 tonne in 2017-18.
About 50 per of the state’s total plantation is Solan district with more than 90 per cent of the produce going to markets in northern states.
The other growing belts are in Shimla, Mandi, Sirmaur, Bilaspur and Kullu districts.
Ramesh Thakur, a farmer near Kandaghat town, said this season tomato selling turned profitable.
“In July, the price of tomato during lockdown was Rs 15-Rs 20/kg and now tomato is selling for Rs 40-50/kg in the wholesale,” he added.
Sellers at the Solan wholesale vegetable market said now the tomatoes from Delhi and Bangalore would meet the demand in north Indian cities till the next crop from Himachal Pradesh will start arriving in June.
About 81 per cent of the total cultivated area in the state is rain-fed.
The major harvesting of tomato is during the kharif season that starts from August-mid and lasts till November-end.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at [email protected])