TNS Explainer: Why Tomato is unreachable at the moment and when the prices will plunge?

Tomato, one of the vital ingredients in Indian foods, has been unreachable currently by lakhs of households in several parts of the nation - particularly in the South Indian states as the price of this perishable berry has gone up at a skyrocketing pace. To be precise, Tomato has become more expensive than petrol and diesel and the Indian kitchens are finding it difficult to complete a food without this red companion. With an alarm of scarcity being sounded, the governments are now taking measures to curb the further surge in prices. 

According to reports, retail tomato prices are at over Rs 120 per kilogram in Chennai. On Tuesday, the price stood at Rs 90 per kilogram in Puducherry, Rs 103 in Bengaluru, and Rs 65 in Hyderabad. The prices have been above Rs 100 in several places including Kerala and the unprecedented surge has brought more distress to the middle and backward classes in bearing it and addressing several financial concerns. In Tamil Nadu, tomatoes were selling at Rs 119 per kg in Ramanathapuram, Rs 103 per kg in Tirunelveli, Rs 97 per kg in Tiruchirapalli, Rs 94 per kg in Cuddalore, and Rs 90 per kg in Coimbatore. 

What's behind the sudden surge in price and when it will decrease?

As per the data of the Union government, widespread rains were being spelt as a reason for the surge. According to the data maintained by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, retail tomato prices began to rise from the beginning of October and the trend continues in November.  At the end of October, the all India retail price of tomato stood by Rs 50 per kg and the price had further risen to Rs 80 per kg on November 23. Major cities in South India had braced up the price rise and the distressing trend is yet to be mitigated. 

Several cities in South India have recorded incessant rainfalls during the northeast monsoon since the first week of November and as the sequel of these rainfalls, the tomato crop was heavily damaged and their produce was massively disrupted, which triggered huge demand after the regular supply was cut. Speaking to PTI, the President of Azadpur Tomato Association, Ashok Kaushik said that the supply chain of Tomato to Delhi from south India was broken as several areas were affected because of the rains. 

He said that if rains continue in the coming days, the prices in Delhi might increase from the current level. The sudden rise has heavily shocked the people of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and the rest of the south Indian states and several of them had stayed off from purchasing tomatoes at such a high retail price. It must be noted that India is the world's second-largest tomato producer after China. However, Tomato has become red gold. According to the National Horticultural Research and Development Foundation, India produces around 19.75 million tonnes from an area of 7.89 lakh hectares with an average yield of 25.05 tonnes per hectare. 

Andhra Pradesh, which is the country's largest producer of tomatoes, has reported a retail price of Rs 100 per kg while it stands at Rs 120 in Kerala. The other major reason behind the surge is the rise of fuel prices, which increased the transportation costs of moving tomatoes from one place to the other. It has been reported that the holiday and wedding seasons add more ingredients towards the surge in prices. Normally,  Tomatoes will be ready to harvest around two to three months after planting, however, while these external factors of rains and increasing fuel prices became unsupportive, it adversely affects the middle income and backward people as they couldn't able to afford such a huge rise. 

While the people are suffering to meet the ordeal of buying tomatoes, the opposition parties have been slamming the Union government for rising inflation. The Congress party has said that the Modi regime has imposed section 144 in the kitchen when it comes to tomatoes and onions. Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said, "It appears as though there is section 144 in the kitchen that you cannot keep more than four tomatoes or onions. Why is it that the farmers find it difficult to produce these commodities because of the input cost, which is very high?." 

In Chennai, the retail price per kg of Tomato has touched Rs 140, with no clear sign of when the price will decrease. According to reports, Tomato was traded at Rs 20 to 25 per kg in Tamil Nadu before the northeast monsoon and after the rainfall, the price of per kg stood at Rs 100 in the Koyambedu wholesale market in the city due to which the retail price had gone to Rs 140. Speaking to a news agency, a trader in the Koyambedu market has said that the market will receive up to 80 trucks of tomatoes every day normally. However, it has now been reduced to 30 trucks due to which, the market has been surfaced with more demand.

Earlier this week, the Koyambedu market had witnessed the arrival of tomatoes from Maharashtra to tackle the demand and if such arrivals continue, the prices will come down failing which the status quo will remain. Koyambedu market is the largest supplier of vegetables to Chennai, its adjacent districts, and several parts of Tamil Nadu and what has to be noted is that Chennai won't receive tomatoes from the manufacturers across Tamil Nadu as 90% of the city's need of tomatoes has been supplied by Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, while the rest 10% is been met up from the manufacturers within Tamil Nadu- from Krishnagiri and Hosur.

The trader has alarmed that if the supply from the nearby states was cut, the prices will go up to a new height in Chennai and Tamil Nadu and he affirmed that there is no chance of hoarding tomatoes amid growing demand as this perishable commodity has no greater life and that it will rotten within a day. Along with tomatoes, the retail price of several vegetables had also been increased, putting the people into more trouble. Floods have been spelt as an important season why the production was affected in Andhra Pradesh. Retail markets in Chennai - including Mandaveli, Mylapore, and Nandanam are trading tomatoes between Rs 140-Rs 160 per kg. 

It has been reported that some vendors in the city have been trading tomatoes of bad quality for a less price and Tamil Nadu Agriculture Minister MRK Panneerselvam has said that the department has begun the works to find out measures to mitigate the further surge in price for tomatoes. MK Stalin-led Tamil Nadu government has decided to procure 15 metric tonnes of tomatoes from cooperatives and sell them in the market within the range of Rs 85 to Rs 100 against the current cost of Rs 140 in open markets. Though steps are being taken to tackle the demand and price surge, the fact is that it is less likely that there would be an immediate plunge in retail prices and traders have expressed hope that the arrival of new crops in the market next month would bring tomatoes and other crops within reachable.