There is more to it than meets the eye when housewives heave a sigh of relief at the crashing tomato prices in this southern metro.
There has been an extraordinary over-supply of tomatoes, virtually flooding the Koyembedu wholesale market complex on the city's western periphery in the last two weeks and that too from an unlikely and far-away production centre, namely Nashik in Maharasthra that is nearly 1300 kms away from in Chennai.
The ten-wheeled 'Taurus' trucks that used to be a rarity at the market complex for perishables, has now been rolling in by the dozens, each carrying 20 tonnes of tomatoes on an average. This has led to wholesale price of tomatoes plummeting from Rs 250 per 15 kg box in mid-November, to Rs 90 on Sunday. At the retail level, the fall is even more telling, from Rs.40 a kg to Rs 10, bringing unexpected cheers to housewives.
There has been a big spurt in the tomato trucks arrivals from Nashik in the last two weeks in particular, after the November 26 terror attacks on Mumbai. This is a very unusual situation the vegetable wholesalers hardly anticipated, for tomatoes are regularly sourced into the Chennai market from neighbouring Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
"We learnt that, saddled partly by over-production, Nashik tomato growers/ traders are diverting a major part of their harvest to Chennai as the trade land route to Pakistan (after the Mumbai tragedy) has been hit and they cannot send vegetables to that country," Mr PV Raja, a veteran tomato merchant at the Koyambedu market said.
The Indian land trade route to Pakistan so far has been transporting the goods by road to Amritsar, from where they go by train across the Attari /Wagah border, it may be recalled. There have also been reports after the Mumbai disaster that Indian trade officials have put off a visit to Pakistan to discuss increasing the border trade points.
"Last week alone, 25 trucks arrived from Nashik every day carrying tomatoes in neatly packed wooden crates," said the official counter of in-coming trucks at the Koyembedu wholesale market, one of the largest 'mandis' in the South built on a sprawling 295 acres of land with good infrastructure facilities including inner roads. The trucks literally deliver the goods at the wholesaler's doorstep.
"Instead of letting the tomatoes rot, the Nashik traders found it prudent to send as much as possible to Chennai, which is a huge consuming market in the south, ranging from the platform-waala to five star hotels," says Raja. It takes three days to truck them from Nashik to Chennai but these are 'Naveen' tomatoes, a top-quality hybrid variety which have a shelf-life of little over ten days, added Raja.
The initial large influx of tomato trucks from Nashik has however, been tapering off in the last two days to an average of six trucks, said a few other wholesalers, indicating that the stocks on hand there must be depleting.
Onions arrival too, which usually comes from horticulture farms around Bengaluru and Hubli in Karnataka, have seen an upswing from Nashik in the past week, said another wholesaler. An occasional truck or two of vegetables from Nashik to Chennai to tide over temporary over-supply problems is not new, but this flooding of tomatoes in the past fortnight has taken everyone completely by surprise.