Farmers in remote villages of Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone are reaping the benefits of an export boom as tomatoes grown in the district are in great demand in Pakistan and other neighbouring countries.
February is a busy month for Shivpal Singh Mourya, 46, a farmer in Nimarkhedi village, about 90 km from Indore. He gets up at dawn to supervise the harvesting of his tomato crop, spread over 45 acre of lush green field. Some days are more hectic when tomatoes are loaded onto a truck bound for Azadpur mandi in Delhi or Attari border in Amritsar.
“The climate in Nimar is favorable for growing tomatoes- both the desi and hybrid varieties. Besides catering to the domestic market, we export tomatoes to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal by road,” Mourya told HT.
“The hybrid variety of tomato is in great demand in Pakistan where they use it for making meat curries while the small desi variety is much sought after in Nepal,” he said.
Like Mourya, many farmers in Khargone and Ratlam districts export tomatoes to Pakistan. The trade takes place through export agencies in Amritsar via the Attari-Wagah border. While business was good in 2015, this year, exports have plunged as Pakistan has harvested good tomato crop due to an unusually warm winter.
“During the peak season in October-November, 50-60 trucks, each with a capacity of 15 tonne, pass through the border every day. Tomatoes are mainly sourced from Nashik in Maharashtra and MP,” Sanjiv Puri, an Amritsar-based custom house agent, told HT over the phone.
“Cold climate is not suitable for tomato crop, especially in areas where there is frost and snowfall so the yield is poor in Pakistan,” said Krishnapal Singh, Shivpal Mourya’s younger brother. “Few people know that tomato prices have crashed in the domestic market not only due to arrival of fresh crop but also because of oversupply as exports to Pakistan through the Wagah border are almost negligible this season,” he said.
State agriculture director ML Meena said, “Areas under tomato cultivation in the state has gone up due to the growing demand in the domestic as well as overseas markets.”
“Tomatoes grown in Khargone, Ratlam and other parts of the state are superior in quality,” he said.
Shortages of tomatoes in Pakistan give handsome returns to growers in MP, farmers said. “We get more than double the price in Pakistan compared to the domestic prices but then the transportation costs are higher,” said Anoopchand, a farmer who exported tomatoes worth Rs 1.10 crore in 2015.
“Exports to Bangladesh will pick up in March and we also export to Nepal where the small-sized desi varieties are in demand as they use whole tomatoes in their recipes,” he said.
The tomato crop, which takes three to four months to mature, is grown twice a year- in July-October period and in November-February.
Hybrid versus ‘desi’
Tomatoes grown in Khargone, Ratlam and other parts of the state are superior in quality
For hybrid tomato, two different varieties of tomato plants are combined to produce a variety with beneficial traits from both the parents. Some of the benefits include improved disease resistance, higher-quality fruit and bigger size. Hybrid tomatoes, which have longer shelf life, are often more expensive.
70.23 lakh hectares: Tomato cultivation area in MP (2015)
90 tonnes: Average tomato yield in MP (per hectare production)
Rs 16 per kg: Average domestic wholesale prices in Oct-Nov 2015
Rs 25 per kg: Pakistan’s average import price in Oct-Nov 2015