The lockdown had led to the shutting of hotels and restaurants, apart from use of potato-based snacks – from Samosa, Aloo Chaat, Tikki, and Paav Bhaji to Masala Dosa and French Fries – taking a knock. Farmers have sold 25% of their crop kept in cold stores and will use another 15% as seed for the coming season.
Raunak Singh Chaudhary a farmer from Sirsa, Haryana told Afternoon Voice, “Most of the production of potato’s rotted in storages, due to long lockdown and less of demand”.
Balu Shere a farmer from Maharashtra told AV, “Almost all the restaurants were closed and the factories producing potato related snacks were also closed, somehow they have moved their old stock, there were no new orders, even if any orders were there, lack of drives and transportation spoiled it all. Since now restaurants partially opened the supply of potatoes’ getting costlier”.
All-India retail prices of potato and tomato, according to the Department of Consumer Affairs’ data, averaged Rs 30 and Rs 50 per kg, respectively, up from Rs 20 each three months ago. The same period saw onion prices dip from Rs 30 to Rs 20 per kg. In 20019 it was pyaaz (onion), this year it is potatoes and now tomatoes that have become costlier, even as annual consumer price index (CPI) inflation, at 6.09% in June, crossed the Reserve Bank of India’s 4-6% upper target range. The ASP of onion charged by this retailer has fallen steadily from nearly Rs 78 per kg in January to Rs 36 in March, Rs 22.5 in May and Rs 20 during the current month. On the other hand, the ASP for potato has more than doubled to Rs 31/kg since February, while displaying extreme volatility in tomato – from Rs 30/kg in January to Rs 22 in March and Rs 14 in May, before surging to Rs 57 this month. In potatoes, the recent price increase is mainly due to lower production, just, as it was about onions last year. Farmers in major potato-growing states such as Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal deposit the bulk of their produce harvested in January-March in cold stores for staggered sales till October-November when planting for the next season begins. Only an estimated 36 crore bags (of 50 kg each) from the main rabi crop of 2019-20 were stocked in cold stores this time, as against 48 crore, 46 crore, and 57 crore bags in the preceding three years. Farmers basically planted less in response to the low realizations since 2017. Regular table potato or ‘mota aloo’ is now being sold from cold stores in UP at Rs 19-20 per kg.
Mohammad Alamgir, general secretary of Agra’s Potato Growers Association said, “We earlier had production cost is Rs 9-10 per kg. Adding cold store, grading, and other charges, plus moisture loss, takes it to Rs 13-14. This is the first time in four years we made some money.”
In May, prices in key wholesale markets such as Narayangaon and Sangamner (Maharashtra) Kolar (Karnataka), Madanapalle (Andhra Pradesh), had crashed to Rs 3-5 per kg. That was the peak arrival time for the summer tomato crop, transplanted in January-March, and harvested from end-April till July. Farmers, who invest a lot in this crop hoping for better price realizations during the summer months, had to sell for a song. The current price increase started from around the last week of June, with the tapering of supplies from the summer crop. Although such tapering is normal, it was aggravated by the earlier low prices that resulted in farmers not applying fertilizers or maintaining their crops after the first few pickings.
Tomato prices could, however, ease once the just-planted Kharif crop arrives in the market. This crop, whose transplantation stretches from mid-June till end-September, has a shorter duration of 90-100 days, compared to 130-150 days for the summer tomatoes. Since it also starts yielding fruits 60-70 days after transplanting (tomato pickings happen at intervals of 3-4 days), consumers can expect some relief after mid-August.