Wholesale prices of tomato, onion and other key seasonal vegetables have declined sharply by up to 60 per cent across the country, mainly due to higher production, compression of demand and market disruption amid COVID-19 crisis.
However, the retail prices of most vegetables remain firm. According to data maintained by AGMARKNET under the Union Agriculture Ministry, the wholesale tomato prices were ruling below Rs 5 per kg in some states on May 24, while that of onion to Rs 6 per kg in the key producing state of Maharashtra. However, potato prices were stable at 12-13 per kg.
Tomato, onion and potato are three key largely consuming vegetables in the country. The falling price trend was also seen in other vegetables such as ladies finger, capsicum, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, chillies and coriander leaves, among others.
“It is a matter of concern that farmers are forced to sell at such low prices,” Government think-tank Niti Aayog member Ramesh Chand told PTI.
He said the fall in rates is due to an increase in arrival due to better crop production besides mandi disruption in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
Chand, however, ruled out the impact of lack of demand from bulk users like hotels and restaurants.
Since mandis come under the purview of states, the Niti Aayog member
said they should step up efforts to ensure smooth functioning of wholesale markets. If they are not able to operate due to social distancing and COVID-19 reasons, other arrangements should be made to ensure farmers do not suffer.
“Mandis are not working as usual. Maybe traders are not coming to markets. For instance Azadpur mandi in Delhi was closed for a few days due to COVID-19 reasons. There is impact on prices due to such disruptions,” he said.
Chand said he had suggested states in the beginning of COVID-19 crisis to suspend mandis for six months which not many states have done yet. Farmers should have been allowed to sell directly.
Stating that demand for vegetables has compressed in this crisis period, agri-economist Ashok Gulati said the demand from bulk users like hotels and restaurants is missing. Even households are not buying in huge quantities because of fear of infection.
“After reports of traders in some mandis had got infected with the virus, there is fear among household consumers about the quality of vegetables. They find cleaning it everytime is a big hassle and therefore shifting to pulses, whose prices have shot up sharply due to rise in demand,” he explained.
Gulati said it is sad to see the government’s TOP scheme under Operation Green has not been of much help to farmers in this situation. The Government has spent only Rs 3 crore out ofRs 500 crore since its launch two years ago under the plan, whose objective is to help tomato, onion and potato (TOP) farmers in times of surplus output.