Sharp drop in vegetable prices as buyers stay in
With eateries also shut following the lockdown, bulk purchases hit rock bottom
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.