A kilogram of farm fresh cherry was sold at Rs 30 at Shimla wholesale market in Himachal Pradesh. The fruit of the season, Mango, was Rs 25 per kilogram at Saharanpur market in Uttar Pradesh. Tomato was selling at Rs 10 per kilogram at Siliguri (West Bengal) and onion at Rs 10 in Neemuch (Madhya Pradesh).
These are the prices of vegetables and fruits in some of the wholesale markets in India in the past one week, which experts said showed a fall in the prices of non-minimum support price (MSP) farm produce. The low prices are expected to continue for some more time and experts don’t expect revival in prices of these horticulture produce in the coming few months.
“The demand is at its 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 would not be many customers. So, I don’t expect the demand to improve dramatically in the coming months,” he said.
Agricultural economist in Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology, KK Sarangi, said demand for vegetables has gone down in the lockdown period as the bulk demand is not there. “Even households are not buying in huge quantities because of the infection fear. And, there are not much signs of prices reviving soon enough to last year’s level,” he said.
India this summer has seen record production of fruits and vegetables due to above normal monsoon last year and good winter rainfall. The agriculture ministry’s advance horticulture produce estimate, which includes main fruits and vegetables, was 313.5 million tonne for 2020 season, highest in the past five years.
The new horticulture crops start arriving in markets from March end. However, this year, a nationwide lockdown was imposed around the same time to check the spread of coronavirus disease, bringing entire country to a grinding halt. Restrictions were imposed on movement of trucks carrying non-essential goods. It created problems for farmers to take their produce to the markets. As the government eased transportation 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 as they became Covid-19 hotspots.
“Nobody (truckers) is willing to take my cherry produce to Delhi or Chandigarh,” said Surinder Singh Bragta, after selling his best quality cherry produce for Rs 30 a kilogram at Shimla’s wholesale fruit market. “Last year, I sold similar quality cherry for Rs 100 a kilogram in Chandigarh. I don’t know what will happen to pears and apples which could be harvested in the new few months. Commission agents are saying this would be worst year for fruits as demand is low.”
More than 2,000 kilometres away in Neemuch, Tarun Baheti, a vegetable farmer, said there are no buyers in the market, other than the local ones. “After so many years, we had a good crop of vegetables. But, no one is willing to give the right price,” he said, blaming Covid-19 lockdown for crashing of the perishable goods market.
“Due to lockdown restrictions, were cannot take produce to bigger markets. Vegetables like Lady finger, bottle gourd and sponge gourd used to be sold Rs 40 to Rs 50 per kg in this season but now the rate has come down to about Rs 15 per kg in the wholesale market. Pumpkin is being sold at Rs 5 to Rs 10 per kg,” he said.
In Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district, Padma Shree awardee farmer Ram Saran Verma said this year he saw empty wholesale markets in a good harvest season. “There are no buyers. Even the cost to transport the produce to market is not being recovered,” he said. Another Barabanki farmer, Dinesh Rawat, said he has lost Rs one lakh in May alone as he was not able to send his cucumber produce to Lucknow, Sultanpur and Agra. “I had to sell it at a local mandi for whatever price it fetched,” he said.
From some states such as Bihar, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, there are reports of farmers throwing away their produce. Verma said most farmers have lost money this year and have either thrown away the produce or given it to cattle. “This year we left the produce in the field itself as there is no point in selling ladyfinger for Rs 2 per kg,” said Bechan Yadav, a farmer in rural area of Patna.
Mritunjay Kumar, a farmer of Sohsarai in Nalanda district, said the cost of transporting vegetables to market is 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 district, pumpkin harvest is rotting in farms due to absence of market access as well as lower demand. Manas Barik, who had harvested 3 tonnes of pumpkins on his five-acre land in Dhenkanal found no takers. “The traders want us to sell pumpkin at Rs 5 a kg. It does not cover even transport cost,” Barik said.
The distress is visible in the wholesale markets, too.
In Gaddiannaram fruit market at Kothapet in Hyderabad, Telangana’s largest fruit and vegetable wholesale market, the prices are lowest in the recent years. “For the last four years, the price of mangoes was between Rs 60,000 to Rs 1.20 lakh per tonne depending on the variety. This year, it is Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 per tonne,” said Telangana Fruit Merchants’ Association president Ashok Kumar. He said the prices of sweat lime (Mosambi) have come down from Rs 50,000 a tonne to less than Rs 20,000 a tonne. “There is essentially no demand,” Kumar said, adding a large number of farmers were could not even recover the transport cost.
At Siliguri, north Bengal’s biggest town, price of tomato on Sunday ranged between Rs 10 to 15 a kg, down from Rs 30-40 per kilogram before the lockdown came into force on March 24. In 2018, the price was around Rs 25 a kg while in 2019 it was around Rs 30, said a district agriculture officer. Ranjeet Singh, a commission agent at Delhi’s Azadpur market, said that only 20% of the buyers at turning up at the make-shift selling yard. “The prices have dipped by 70% to 80%,” Singh said.
Dilshad Ahmed, a vegetable vendor in Lucknow claimed that the people were getting better quality produce at a lower price as farmers use to send their best produce directly to multi-brand retailer. “Due to lockdown farmers have been forced to sell their produce in markets,” he said. President of Neemuch Market vegetable sellers union, Hari Om, said, “Except potato, ginger and green chilli, prices of all other fruits and vegetables have fallen. Even people are not buying fruits and vegetables as they used to do earlier.”
Patna district agriculture officer, Rakesh Ranjan, said the price of veggies might increase once the lockdown is fully lifted. “We hope that the farmer may start getting decent price from August onwards,” he said. Karnataka Horticulture Producers Co-operative Marketing and Processing Society (HOPCOMS) officials claimed that the prices have recovered in the past one week with easing of lockdown norms. “Prices of vegetables like onion, potato and others are more staple than the easier perishables such as greens, beans, tomato, capsicum, cucumber which wilt in the summer sun,” said an HOPCOMS official, who was not willing to be named.
(With inputs from state bureaus)