Sharp drop in veg­etable prices as buy­ers stay in

With eateries also shut fol­low­ing the lock­down, bulk pur­chases hit rock bot­tom

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - HTBUSINESS - Chetan Chauhan let­ters@hin­dus­tan­ n

NEW DELHI: Cher­ries for ~30/lg whole­sale in Shimla; the fruit of the sea­son, mango, for ~25/ kg whole­sale in Ut­tar Pradesh’s Sa­ha­ran­pur; and tomato for ~10/ kg whole­sale in Ben­gal’s Silig­uri.

The prices of fruits and veg­eta­bles in whole­sale mar­kets over the past week high­lights the steep fall in the price of farm pro­duce in the face of a drop in con­sumer de­mand dur­ing the lock­down im­posed to curb the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, ex­perts said. No re­bound is likely in the com­ing weeks and months, they added.

“De­mand is at rock bot­tom,” said Deven­dra Sharma, a Chandi­garh-based in­de­pen­dent farm ex­pert. “The big­gest con­sumer of the per­ish­able prod­ucts is the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try, other than in­di­vid­u­als. There are no signs of the in­dus­try open­ing soon. And when it opens, there will not be many cus­tomers. So, I don’t ex­pect the de­mand to im­prove dra­mat­i­cally in the com­ing months.”

In­dia ex­pects a bumper pro­duc­tion of fruits and veg­eta­bles be­cause of an above-nor­mal 2019 mon­soon and good win­ter rain­fall. The agri­cul­ture min­istry’s hor­ti­cul­ture pro­duce es­ti­mate was 313.5 mil­lion tonnes for the 2020 sea­son, the high­est in five years. The ab­sence of bulk pur­chases dur­ing the lock­down, which shut eateries and con­fined res­i­dents in­doors, has dented de­mand. “Even house­holds are not buy­ing in huge quan­ti­ties. And there are not many signs of prices re­viv­ing soon,” said KK Sarangi, an agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist in Odisha Univer­sity of Agri­cul­ture and Tech­nol­ogy.

New hor­ti­cul­ture crops start ar­riv­ing in the mar­kets from March -end . The lock­down took pub­lic trans­port for non-es­sen­tial goods off the roads this year. As the gov­ern­ment eased trans­port norms, some big veg­etable whole­sale mar­kets in­clud­ing Asia’s big­gest fruit and veg­etable mar­ket at Azad­pur in New Delhi and Koy­ambedu in Chen­nai were closed be­cause they turned into Covid hot spots.

“No­body (truck­ers) is will­ing to take my cherry pro­duce to Delhi or Chandi­garh,” said Surinder Singh Bragta af­ter sell­ing his best qual­ity pro­duce for ~30 a kilo­gram in Shimla’s whole­sale fruit mar­ket. “Last year, I sold sim­i­lar qual­ity cherry for ~100 a kilo­gram in Chandi­garh .”

In Mad­hya Pradesh’s Neemuch, farmer Tarun Ba­heti said there were no buy­ers other than lo­cal traders. “Due to lock­down, we can­not take the pro­duce to big­ger mar­kets. Ladies’ fin­ger (okra) bot­tle gourd, sponge gourd used to be sold for a max­i­mum of ~40 to ~50 per kg in the last sea­son but the rate has come down to ~15 per kg in the whole­sale mar­ket. Pump­kin is be­ing sold at ~5 -~10 per kg,” he added.

In Ut­tar Pradesh’s Bara­banki, Ram Saran Verma, a farmer who has won the Padma Shri award for his work in agri­cul­ture, said,“Even the cost to trans­port the pro­duce to mar­ket is not be­ing re­cov­ered.” “This year we left the pro­duce in the field it­self as there is no point in sell­ing ladies’ fin­ger for ~2 per kg” said Bechan Ya­dav, a farmer in ru­ral Patna.

Mritun­jay Ku­mar, a farmer of Sohsarai in Na­landa, said the cost of trans­port­ing the veg­eta­bles to the mar­ket was more than the sell­ing price. “It is bet­ter to give veg­eta­bles to cat­tle, at least they will get some nu­tri­tion,” he said.

In Odisha’s Dhenkanal, the pump­kin har­vest is rot­ting. Manas Barik, who har­vested three tonnes of pump­kins in Dhenkanal, said he found no tak­ers . “The traders want us to sell pump­kin at ~ 5 a kg. It does not cover even trans­port cost.”

The distress is vis­i­ble in fruit mar­kets, too. In Gad­di­an­naram fruit mar­ket in Hy­der­abad, Te­lan­gana’s largest fruit and veg­etable whole­sale mar­ket, the prices are the low­est in years. “For the last four years, the price of man­goes was be­tween~60,000 and ~1.20 lakh per tonne. This year, it is ~20,000 to ~30,000 per tonne,” said Te­lan­gana Fruit Mer­chants’ As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Ashok Ku­mar. “We hope the farmer gets de­cent price from Au­gust,”said Patna district agri­cul­ture of­fi­cer Rakesh Ran­jan. Of­fi­cials at the Kar­nataka Hor­ti­cul­ture Pro­duc­ers Co-op­er­a­tive Mar­ket­ing and Pro­cess­ing So­ci­ety (HOPCOMS) claimed that prices have re­cov­ered in the past one week with the eas­ing of lock­down norms. “Prices of veg­eta­bles like onion and potato are more sta­ble than the greens, beans, tomato, cap­sicum, cu­cum­ber which wilt in the sun,” said a HOPCOMS of­fi­cial who re­quested anonymity. (With in­puts from state bu­reaus)


Labour­ers dump veg­eta­bles that couldn’t be sold for want of buy­ers at Thiru­mazhi­sai veg­eta­bles mar­ket in Chen­nai on Mon­day.

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