Hyderabad, Dec. 10: After tobacco farmers, it’s now the turn of tomato growers in Andhra Pradesh to opt for a distress sale of their produce.
The reason behind the farmers’ misery: A bumper crop of 5.5 tonnes per acre against the usual 2.5 to 3 tonnes in the tomato region of Alluru and Pattikonda in Kurnool district.
“We went into tomato instead of rice and jowar as we were not certain of water. We invested nearly Rs 3,000 per acre. We have the yield but no buyers. Our tryst with misery never seems to end,” says Krishnappa, a tomato farmer in Alluru.
His fate is shared by nearly 26,000 tomato farmers in Madanapalli and Kuppam of Chittoor district. In many villages of Kuppam and Pattikonda, farmers have left their tomatoes to rot in the fields as plucking costs them Rs 50 per labourer every day.
“When we cannot get even Rs 150 per tonne after our expenses, how can I pay a labour Rs 50'” asks Gopal Naidu, a Madanapalli-based farmer.
The glut in the tomato market has also taken its toll on light commercial vehicle (LCV) operators.
“Since the crop is not yielding any profits, the farmers do not want to ferry their products to the market yards. My fleet of six LCVs is lying idle for the last one month,” says Yerrasetti Ramakrishna, a transport provider in Kurnool.
Tomato prices in Bangalore and Hyderabad recently dropped to Rs 2-4 per kilo, but this week it has once again risen to Rs 8. “Local farmers, too, are not bringing the crop to the market. If you go to the neighbouring villages, you can get tomatoes for Rs 3 per kg,” says Padmakka, a local vegetable vendor who spends Rs 15 on bus fare to ferry 20 kilos of tomatoes every day.
Farmers and the Opposition blame the state government’s horticulture policy.
“Failure to create marketing networks and provide transport facilities to farmers to sell their produce has led to the present debacle,” said Congress leaders of Kurnool.
Traders are fleecing farmers because the government network is not in a position to lift the bumper crop and pay the farmers, they alleged. “Although a minimum support price of Rs 1.50 per kg was announced, the government has not made arrangements in market yards to keep the stock.”
Earlier, the state administration had announced plans to set up cold storage chains and a computer-aided marketing network to prevent such a crisis.
In Kuppam and Madanapalli, tomato stocks purchased by the agriculture department went to waste because they were not transported immediately. “About 50 tonnes of tomatoes rotted in the yard as it was kept in open,” says an agricultural department official.
The fate of nearly 72,000 tomato farmers in the state now hangs in balance.
“At least someone could store rice and tobacco for a few days but we can not keep tomato more than two days,” says Gopal Reddy.
Despite the price slide, Madanapalli and Kuppam still send nearly 25 lorries of tomatoes to Chennai and Bangalore every day. Another 15 truckloads of tomatoes are sent to Adoni, Bellari, Kurnool and Hyderabad.
“Over 60 per cent of the crop is wasted and only 20 per cent of the crop has been sold. We do not bother what happens next as we have left our fields uncared for. Birds and animals are feeding on the tomatoes this season,” said farmers in Aspari village, who have stopped plucking tomatoes for the season.