Low yield and plunging prices have delivered a double whammy to tomato growers in this district this year.
Once touted as a showcase district for market-linked vegetable cultivation, Chittoor has now become the epicentre of tomato farmers’ distress. The signs are not good this year. The district saw tomato acreage drop to 72 ,600 acres this year from 3.5 lakh acres last year. Market yards which used to receive around 300 metric tons of tomato daily are now seeing arrivals dwindle to 150-200 metric tons per day.
New from the markets is giving the jittlers to farmers. They used to get Rs 180 per 20 kg of superior quality tomatoes and Rs 140 and Rs 110 for the second and third grades. This year, the price for superior quality produce has fallen to `80 per a 20 kg consignment, and Rs 60 and Rs 35, respectively, for the lesser-grade produce.
The price slump is attributed to competition from produce from beyond the state’s borders. With tomatoes being shipped in from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, farmers in Chittoor district are having to contend with market realities. Distress sales and dumping, seen frequently in recent years, are a distinct possibility this year too.
“We used to make Rs 8 to 10 lakh per annum,” says Munichandra Naidu, a farmer of Kurabalakota. “Given the market conditions this year, even a profit of `20,000 per acre looks bleak.” Farmers are being squeezed from the other side too. Costs of cultivation have gone up to Rs 1.5 to `2 lakh per acre due to the hike in prices of inputs.
For now, Munichandra Naidu is holding his nerve but a distress sale is not far away. Many of his fellow farmers are in danger of being pushed into a debt trap. Some farmers in his neighbourhood did not even harvest their produce, leaving it to rot in the field. The market being so bad, even paying workers for plucking seemed like money down the drain.
Placed at the mercy of markets they do not understand, farmers turn their frustrations on the government. Naidu said Chittoor’s tomato farmers have been exposed to the markets but have been supported by almost no facilities to withstand its vagaries. In distress, thoughts turn to protectionism. The Madanapalle market yard secretary D Nageswara Reddy told Express that he is planning to take a delegation to the district collector to ask him to close local markets to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka tamotoes.