Image used for representation (Photo | EPS)
Image used for representation (Photo | EPS)

Karnataka: Woe over tomato, green chilli hitting tons

Household budgets, biz in distress as prices soar; deficit rain, low produce key factors

BENGALURU:  In some kitchens in homes and restaurants, tomatoes are no longer found in salads. The juicy, red vegetable is being replaced by tamarind or tomato puree. It has fallen off the McDonald's menu, and tomato chaat has disappeared from street-side stalls. At Rs 120 per kg (as of July 9), this staple ingredient is sparingly found in Indian curries.  

Since June, the prices of tomatoes, chillies, carrots, beans, garlic and ginger have been on the rise, but the real impact can be felt now. All vegetables have undergone cost inflation of 40-60 per cent in July, and consumers said their kitchen budgets have shot up from around Rs 1,500 in June to Rs 2,000 in July. With the price of essential ingredients skyrocketing, many households are now forced to shell out more to buy basic vegetables and also look for alternatives. 

Essentials, expensive affair 
Horticultural Producers’ Cooperative Marketing and Processing Society (Hopcoms) in Bengaluru on Friday reported that the price of tomatoes was fixed at Rs 120 per kg, and cherry tomatoes at Rs 160 per kg. In retail markets, varieties such as nati tomato (Rs 130 per kg), hybrid tomato (Rs 134 per kg) and organically grown tomato (Rs 212 per kg) are making consumers wary of the vegetable.

In Hassan, tomatoes are sold in the retail market at Rs 160 per kg, which were priced at Rs 50 per kg at this time in 2022; a huge jump of 220 per cent. In Dharwad, tomatoes are retailing at Rs 120 to Rs 140 per kg, depending on the different varieties, like hybrid and organic. In Mysuru, wholesale rate of tomatoes is Rs 80 per kg and retail price has crossed Rs 100. In Shivamogga, the retail price is Rs 100-120 per kg.

Hopcoms MD Mirji Umesh Shankar told TNIE, “Prices are high all over Karnataka. We have stopped receiving tomato produce from Nashik in Maharashtra, which has further hiked prices, and the rain deficit in Karnataka and all over the country is impacting prices.” Prices may not come down for a couple of weeks, and will burden consumers, he added. 

Kolar, Asia’s second-largest tomato market that supplies to the entire country, does not paint a good picture of the current situation. Farmers and traders say that prices will go through the roof in the coming weeks. 

According to Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Secretary Vijayalakshmi, the reason behind the price rise is low produce. “Earlier, 4-5 lakh crates weighing 15kg each arrived in the market daily. However, currently, only 70,000 to 80,000 boxes of tomatoes are arriving at the market in Kolar. This has caused a spike in price. Initially, each crate was selling at Rs 650 but as of Sunday, a few boxes of good quality products were sold at Rs 1,800 for 15kg,” she said.  

It was a similar situation in Mysuru, another big producer of tomatoes. Horticulture Deputy Director K Rudresh, Mysuru, said there has been no big fluctuation in prices of chilli, ginger and onion, but tomato prices have increased due to a shortfall in cultivation. “Tomatoes were planted in March, but as temperatures increased, only 60 per cent of the crop survived.” He explained that a delay in the arrival of the monsoon led to 40 per cent lower harvest this season. 

“The APMC yard, which used to get 15,000 crates of tomatoes per day, is getting only 5,000 crates, while consumption remains the same,” Rudresh said, adding that sowing was completed after the onset of the monsoon, and “the situation should normalise in 15 days, post-harvest”.

Negative factors
Farmers from Kolar complained that for them, the price hike is a “no loss, no gain” affair. The yield is affected because of the whitefly virus, which is an ongoing problem in many parts of the country. According to Sudarshan, a farmer in Srinivasapura, Kolar, tomato growers are unable to find a solution for the virus, which is destroying crops, and the yield has fallen to 10 to 15% of good crop, while the rest is damaged. Despite soaring prices, farmers are not earning profits as they are only able to transport a fraction of the crop, at the usual cost. Also, drought in some regions and heavy rainfall in others is destroying the quality of vegetables. 

Kalaburagi-based merchant Usmansab said, “Deficit rainfall in Kalaburagi district and heavy rain in Maharashtra, from where tomatoes arrive, are the major reasons for a hike in the price of tomatoes and green chilli.” Many customers have stopped buying these vegetables, he said. Satish Patil, wholesaler, APMC, Belagavi, said cyclones in North India led to fluctuating rates. He recalled that two months ago, tomatoes had fallen to Rs 2 per kg which had discouraged local farmers from cultivating the crop, leading to a dearth in quantity. 

In Hassan, wholesalers hiking prices without any profits reaching the farmers, also came to light. In Shivamogga, most vegetables are purchased from other states and sold in local markets. Vegetable merchants said low rainfall has pushed up prices. During this period, onions and potatoes came from Pune and Satara in Maharashtra, and Indore in Madhya Pradesh. 

The rainfall deficit has also reduced the quality of potatoes and onions. “The delay in rain has pushed the arrival of onions to November. The quantity of onions and potatoes coming to the Shivamogga market from other states has come down significantly,” said Ramu, a wholesale distributor in Shivamogga APMC. Vendors and the public are in a state of worry, as ginger prices are sizzling across the country. In Karnataka, the ingredient is being purchased at Rs 400 per kg, affecting not just households but burning a hole in small eatery owners’ pockets as well. In Bengaluru, ginger is marketed at Rs 358 per kg in Hopcoms, with a slight fluctuation in retail markets. The root vegetable has been selling at Rs 280 per kg in some districts. Garlic is witnessing a steep price rise. Hopcoms listed the price at Rs 192 per kg and cleaned garlic at 208 per kg.

In Hassan, chillies are selling at Rs 130 per kg, whereas during the same period last year, they were sold at a retail price of Rs 30 per kg. In Bengaluru, green chillies are priced at Rs 132 per kg and retail prices vary between Rs150 and Rs 200 per kg. Many online grocery portals have starting putting up ‘no stock’ sign. In Dharwad, prices are comparatively low -- chillies are priced at Rs 40 to 60 per kg in retail, and Rs 30 to 45 per kg. For Mysuru, chillies cost Rs 80 per kg in wholesale and Rs 100 in retail. 

Paramesh, a wholesaler in Hassan said that the quality of vegetables has also been dwindling due to dry spells and the increased impact of climate change on green vegetables.  “The price of basic vegetables such as brinjal, cabbage, carrot, radish and drumstick remained the same in wholesale and retail markets. However, prices may increase in the coming days as sowing area has decreased in the district,” he added. 

In Dharwad, the state of onions is also worrisome. They are being purchased from neighbouring districts and even Maharashtra at almost a 40 per cent higher rate, while onions grown here are being sent to other states. Very soon, this staple vegetable will become an expensive affair. 

Jeevan Kulal, proprietor of JJ Vegetables and Fruits, Manipal, said there are no local vegetable varieties these days, so people depend on vegetables brought from Chikkamagaluru, Hassan, Bengaluru and Belagavi. Some quantity of the local GI-tagged Mattu Gulla is available, and priced at Rs 180 per kg. He added that vegetable prices may come down after two months, when the rain recedes. 

Usually, in the last week of September and early October, locally grown onions from Hosadurga, Hiriyur and other places in Chitradurga and Gadag districts start arriving, however, delayed rainfall might further push it by a month. 

However, the situation in Kalaburagi seems different. Veerabhadrappa, a vegetable vendor, said, “Onions have become cheaper and are being sold at Rs 100 for 5kgs.” Sources in Hassan alleged that there are no fresh vegetables available at Hopcoms, and in Dharwad, the quality of green leafy vegetables is affected as retail prices double. A resident of Banashankari in Bengaluru, Roopa Dhruvaraj shared the difference in her ration and grocery bills -- Rs 4,496 in June, and Rs 6,022 for the same items in July.

Dhurvaraj said that despite the hike in almost all essentials, she cannot avoid the expenses. “Tomatoes are selling at Rs 150 per kg, which was earlier Rs 40, dosa rice costs Rs 42 per kg. How are we meant to manage the household?” she said, and added that since these are essentials, no alternatives can be used. Vinuta, a homemaker in Kalaburagi, has stopped buying tomatoes and chillies which are selling at Rs 100 per kg.  Another citizen in Bengaluru said she has to calculate the expense before making certain delicacies. “Homemakers set aside a specific budget for monthly groceries, and it is hard for them to manage at such exorbitant prices. Health takes a backseat as nutritional value decreases,” said Mahalakshmi B. 

Impact on restaurants
While price fluctuations are making new records every day, small eateries, tiffin service centres and restaurants are bearing the brunt. As their menus are set and prices cannot be changed weekly, profits have reduced considerably. 

Gurdeep Singh, who runs a tiffin service called Peppy Punjabi, which caters to around 400 people in east Bengaluru, said business has been hit hard. “We cannot compromise on the quality of food, so we are purchasing only hybrid tomatoes. We are taking a cut on what we earn and almost serving food for free, because not just vegetables, pulses, spices and flour are also costlier.” Currently, budgets have increased by 35 per cent, leaving very little margin. 

Bruhat Bangalore Hotels Association (BBHA), which has 24,500 hotels under its umbrella, said retail and bulk rates are nearly the same now. In fact, good quality tomatoes cost more in wholesale markets. PC Rao, president of BBHA said, “Restaurants have no option but to start using alternatives such as tomato puree. Currently, they are relying on 75 per cent puree and 25 per cent fresh tomatoes. ”  

Rate Card in Karnataka

Bengaluru Rs 120/kg
Hassan Rs 160 /kg 
Dharwad Rs 120-140 /kg
Mysuru Rs 100 /kg 
Shivamogga Rs 100-120/kg

Bengaluru Rs 132/kg 
Hopcoms Rs 210/kg
Hassan Rs 130/kg 
Dharwad Rs 40 to 60/kg 
Mysuru Rs 100/kg

Bengaluru Rs 358/kg 
Other dists: Rs 280 - 310 /kg

Hopcoms, Bengaluru
Normal garlic: Rs 192/kg
Cleaned garlic: Rs 208/kg

(Inputs by Ramkrishna Badseshi, Udaya Kumar, BK Lakshmikanta, Ramachandra Gunari, Prakash Samaga, Mallikarjun Hiremth, Tushar Majukar and V Velayudham) 

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