We were reading this article from Finshots earlier this week - Tomato trouble and wanted to check with you on your thoughts.
The article discusses challenges with storing tomatoes or any other vegetable/fruit. And if solved for might help with the supply of the produce, eventually helping lesser volatility with price. All of which will translate to predictable outcomes for farmers growing that specific produce. Are there steps we can take today to improve the situation?
I think that fundamental problem is the way we are producing and consuming. Before jumping into Cold storage, Dehydration, Value addition etc. The fundamental question we need to ask is.
How much of this can be produced locally, within a Gram panchyat/ Taluka / District
What are the alternates during the seasons in which Tomatoes cannot be grown or even better, can tomatoes be alternates for certain vegetables which are seasonal.
what can be low energy storage techniques etc
The solution may be in decentralising production and bringing in viable alternatives. Some of the kitchen garden “projects” are trying to achieve this.
The fundamental problem is tomatoes getting produced in some parts only is putting a huge stress on water, soil and natural resources in those areas, Mulching sheet usage has been very high in these areas, The places growing these are loosing the Biodiversity, people forgetting other veggies/ alternates
For example there is a huge tomato market is Challkere, one of the driest belts in India. Unsure how it’s getting produced in that area
We are looking for a solution from the lenses of decentralised production, Nutrition, income etc
This needs to promoted to producers/ sellers etc. To have this happen someone need to incentivize producers and consumers (its tough to incentivized). A small example when Ola/ Uber came they incentivized ( Service Seller ie Car owners) Consumers (People who used to cabs at discounted price) & Govt ( Never used to get taxes and they started getting from this industry) , similar example is food aggregator’s and many. Some small experiments is required to test this if it can happen where people try new things.
Does it have to do with the lack of adequate cold storage infrastructure in every district? I think the issue is only now taking prominence but I believe the only way to solve this problem is to do it the OG way, aka invest in the infrastructure, and use data-driven methods to provide better insights to farmers about weather patterns, supply chain resilience, and so on.
However, all of this has only one prerequisite and that requires a foresighted government that works on providing good infrastructure in real time. The vegetable inflation problem is just of the many features of the same larger issue, lack of infrastructure and planning. Sometimes you need a solid base, no matter how many noble laureates you put together, the basics always matter. We underestimate the importance of the supply chain. Even though the article states, it’s not enough, I believe they don’t fully account for how seamless we can make things with a better supply chain. Unfortauneyly I went to school in the states, so I am well aware of their mechanism, I think India is slowly adopting the warehousing mechanism, but not on a large scale enough to create an impact.
Tomatoes are everyone’s favourite fruit (yes, it is not a vegetable), and there is a saying, knowing Tomato is a fruit is Knowledge, and not using it in fruit salad is Wisdom, and there is a book by BGL Swamy, ನಮ್ಮ ಹೊಟ್ಟೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ದಕ್ಷಿಣ ಅಮೆರಿಕ (south America in our tummy), details the journey of Tomatoes from south America to India.
What we have not understood, unfortunately as a commodity how this works in the first place. Most of north India gets the tomatoes from Kolar, and any challenges in the production in the Kolar and Chikkaballapur and Anekal belt, and Javagal belts technically impact the tomatoes’ retail prices. Retail price per KG swings from Rs. 15 to Rs. 200/250, and farmer prices swing between Rs. 2 to Rs. 150. There was a question from @Dinesh Pai can it be stored in a cold store, yes, maximum storage is 4 to 5 weeks, not beyond that., next question is do we have a cold stores to store in the time of distress? Yes, there is a huge infrastructure which farmers can lease the put the tomatoes but we have to have a certainty that tomatoes can be sold at a better price, if not it is an additional burden on farmers to use the cold store (for which they have to pay rent) and not able to sell at the better price, as farmer never controls the pricing. The next question is can be converted to value-added products, yes, it happens, there are huge factories made for this in India (very big brand, Kissan, to Heinz to Maggi, and there is a host of people running the plants), all the operators wait for distress so that they can buy at cheapest price sell at price points where consumers are willing to pay. In the whole system, there is only one person who will be continuing to be distressed that is the farmer, for reasons beyond his control.
above is simplified a lot for discussion, removed a lot of intermediaries etc. The question would be is there a way to change this? Not in the current setup. we have reimagined markets and production systems moving to rationed production.
comprehensive analysis of tomatoes problem
Key points from the article from The Plate, it is hitting on the face.
" India’s tomato productivity at 10 tonnes per acre is considerably below even the global average of 35 tonnes. The country’s much vaunted ‘Kisan Rail’ scheme that hoped to connect producers and consumers through subsidised freight rates and dedicated carriages barely functions.
The first step towards an integrated approach, according to Shinde, must begin with helping farmers achieve yields of 40 tonnes/acre. That would automatically bring the cost of production down.
“The government has to incentivise the private sector to set up tomato processing plants. At Sahyadri, we buy tomatoes for processing when there is a glut. When we start buying in large volumes, the prices stabilise. Even partial-processing of fresh food can extend its life by six months. Tomatoes can be processed to last a couple of years. When farmers are assured of stable prices, they can focus on producing crops that are profitable for them and healthy for consumers,” says Shinde.
India’s tomato processing infrastructure is so poor that it is considerably cheaper to import tomato paste of a better quality from China. Also, a myopic focus on the domestic fresh tomato market comes at the cost of popularising processing-grade tomato varieties among farmers that would fetch them better prices. Such tomatoes need to be sweeter and have lower acidity and water content. "