The vegetable crunch | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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The vegetable crunch

Sneha Shiralkar, 36, a resident of Matunga runs a tiffin service. She buys her vegetables from the Vashi or Dadar wholesale market, where prices are cheaper than at retail outlets, but she still finds her earnings declining.

mumbai Updated: Jul 03, 2011 00:38 IST
Prachi Pinglay

Sneha Shiralkar, 36, a resident of Matunga runs a tiffin service. She buys her vegetables from the Vashi or Dadar wholesale market, where prices are cheaper than at retail outlets, but she still finds her earnings declining.

Vegetable prices, although lower than at the same time last year, have risen by anything from 30% to 100% over the past two months because farmers say yields have been lower than expected.

“There is no respite from any quarter on the price front — from school fees to travel costs to vegetables,” says Shiralkar, who has a 14-year-old son and who buys four kilograms of vegetables every day. “ It is becoming increasingly difficult.”

Apart from a lower-than-expected yield, problems with the supply chain also boost prices, say experts.

Farmers also say that they don’t ultimately benefit from this price increase as much as wholesalers do. But wholesalers and retailers deny they are charging anything extraordinary.

“We have made no profit in the past two months because our yield is less than expected,” says Balasaheb Mhaisdhune from Nashik, who grows several vegetables, such as tomatoes, ladies’ finger and cabbage. “So we haven’t been able to recover all of what we invested.”

Moreover, after the government increased the price of diesel to Rs 45.08 from Rs 42.06 per litre a week ago, vegetable prices are likely to rise further. Trucks that transport vegetables from Nashik and its environs to Mumbai all run on diesel, so wholesalers will pass their fuel costs on to consumers. If it does not rain in the next few weeks, then prices will rise even more steeply. “We bear the transport costs from farmers’ markets,” says Prakash More, a leading vegetable trader at the government-run Agricultural Produce Market Committee in Navi Mumbai, the wholesale market from which vegetables fan out to smaller wholesale markets and retail outlets in the city. “Retailers also raise prices because they have their own transport costs, and have to account for wastage and profit margins.”

At Crawford Market, customer demand fluctuates depending on the daily price of vegetables.

Retailers, who procure their vegetables from Navi Mumbai or the Byculla wholesale market, claim 20% of their produce could spoil during the monsoon because of the damp air, in which everything perishes faster.

Vendors in affluent residential areas such as Shivaji Park, Bandra and Juhu are known to further raise prices by 25%.

“Prices are usually high at this time of the year,” says Jyoti Joharey, a Cuff Parade resident who shops at the Sahakari Bhandar, a state-run co-operative store, where prices are lower than at retail outlets. “We should start growing vegetables in garden, terraces and balconies.”

“The impact of transport costs will be temporary,” says D K Joshi, chief economist with Crisil, a little more optimistically. “In the long run, if the monsoon is satisfactory, food inflation is expected to go down. These fluctuations of short supply and increase in costs because of diesel price hike will settle in a few months.”

For the next few months, however, until the monsoon shows its true colours, Shiralkar will continue to despair at vegetable prices, even at the wholesale markets she frequents.