Reports from across the country indicate there has been an unnatural spike in the prices of vegetables, disrupting the carefully planned kitchen budgets of millions. An all-India survey on the retail price
of tomatoes by LocalCircles between November 18 and 28 showed that most households in big tier-1 cities forked out around Rs 100 for a kilo, while the average payout in tier-2 and tier-3 cities was Rs 70 per kg. Even the prices of more sturdy staple vegetables—potato and onions—are up about 20%.
Unseasonal rains all over the country have ruined vegetable crops and disrupted market operations, creating a shortage. High diesel prices too have added to the woes of consumers as they bear the increased transport costs. The crash and spurt in prices of these essential veggies has unfortunately become an acceptable cycle. For instance, last year saw a high in onion prices in September and a huge spurt again was witnessed this February on account of unseasonal rains. Then followed a sudden spurt in production by mid-March triggering a 30-40% fall in prices. In Lasalgaon, India’s onion hub, farmers were in tears as prices crashed from Rs 4,000 a quintal to a low of Rs 2,500.
The government needs to do more than its usual last-minute measures like banning onion exports as soon as prices soar. One of the reasons prices of potatoes are relatively stable compared to other vegetables is because they use 90% of the warehousing cold storage space and do not rot easily. Similar cold chain infrastructure for other important veggies, with central support, will give better returns to farmers and provide stable prices to consumers. The more perishable onions and tomatoes can be processed and stored, as is done in many advanced countries. The Union government had announced ‘Operation Green TOP’ (Tomatoes-Onions-Potatoes) in 2018 to build value chains in line with the Amul milk model, where surplus is bought from the farmers and released in time to stabilise prices. Progress has been however tardy. It is therefore time for long-term solutions so that both the consumer and the farmer are protected.