COIMBATORE: Driven by anguish after they were offered less than 10 paise per kg of tomatoes, farmers in Coimbatore dumped their produce on the roadside. At Krishnagiri, the hub of tomato cultivation, bright red ones that filled expansive fields during the abundant harvest shrivelled and died in front of farmers’ eyes. They had no choice as the market offered just Rs 80 for a 25kg crate (Rs 3.2 per kg).
Last Sunday, at the same wholesale market in Krishnagiri, the price had shot up. A 25kg crate was sold for Rs 1,600 and as it made its way through large distributors to wholesalers and finally retail traders, the price hovered around Rs100 per kg for consumers in distant cities.
It is the cascading effect of the crisis that had hit farmers at the start of the year that is being felt in kitchens across the State seven months later. It was brought about by a variety of events including glut in the previous season, which was worsened by demonetisation, which led to a severe cash crunch in the market in those months. There was not enough currency available to make any purchase other than essentials.
After the drastic setback in winter, many farmers simply refused to cultivate during the next cycle. Few like L Vijay from Rayakottai in Krishnagiri, who went ahead on a half-acre piece of land were hit by the water crisis. He had dug two borewells that went as deep as 1,200ft but found no water. “I was forced to buy water at Rs 700 per 6,000 litres, which was used on alternate days to protect my crop.”
Vijay managed to get a considerable yield but that is a rare success story. Because, as he said, “many farmers left without sowing seeds”.
The effect of this reduction in cultivation was felt in the markets across the western region immediately. At Krishnagiri market, the arrival has dipped to 10,000 crates per day against 40,000-50,000.
The sharp fluctuations in price are clearly affecting farmers, markets and consumers, with none having any certainty on how the price would behave at the end of a crop cycle, even if it is only 60-70 days long.
“There are tomato processing units in Krishnagiri, Kinathukadavu and Tiruchy that the State government is running in association with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU),” said vice chancellor K Ramasamy.
According to him, farmers did not follow the announcements that the university made, and sowed without considering the climatic condition and water availability. “Such individual cultivation would not help to ensure profitable farming,” he said.
From this year, following a recommendation by the TNAU, the State government has decided to shift the cultivation method to seedling plantation from sowing seeds. “So we hope the cultivation can be streamlined into a systematic manner under the guidance of the State horticulture department.”
The government is also considering another suggestion by the university on creating 10 marketing societies across the State and introducing mobile processing units to collect the excess produce from the farm itself, he added.