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Hot summer drives up vegetable prices

May 09, 2024 07:26 AM IST

Heatwaves and dry weather in several parts of the country have shriveled short-duration crops sown between winter and summer seasons, leading to steeper-than-expected surge in vegetable prices in April

Heatwaves and dry weather in several parts of the country have shriveled short-duration crops sown between winter and summer seasons, leading to steeper-than-expected surge in vegetable prices in April, which were still rising in the first week of May, official data show.

Between March 1 and May 8, the country as a whole received 16% less than normal rainfall. (HT Archive)
Between March 1 and May 8, the country as a whole received 16% less than normal rainfall. (HT Archive)

The main kharif or summer-sown season is slated to begin in June with the onset of monsoon rains and wheat, the key winter staple, hasn’t been impacted by extreme weather because harvesting is nearly over.

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However, missing pre-monsoon showers and blistering temperatures over central, western and southern regions have impacted yields of summer perishables, fruits and vegetables. The heat has also affected short-duration paddy grown during the so-called zaid season, a period between March and June, according to farmers and traders.

Extreme heat, which quickens evaporation, has dried up water bodies and reservoirs, posing risks for agriculture and animals. The water level in 150 nationally important reservoirs monitored by the Central Water Commission has dropped for 30th week in a row to settle at just 28%, or 50.432 billion cubic metres (BCM), of their total full reservoir capacity of 179 BCM.

Prices of most horticulture produce and vegetables at the retail and wholesale level spiked during April, when nearly two-thirds of the country saw higher-than-normal temperatures. Between March 1 and May 8, the country as a whole received 16% less than normal rainfall.

Retail food inflation rose to a high of 8.5% in March, although overall consumer inflation cooled to a 10-month low of 4.85 in that month. Vegetables have a weight of 7.5% in the headline Consumer Price Index.

At the wholesale level, the all-India weighted average price of tomato in April stood at 1512 a quintal, a 62% jump from a year ago, data from the Agmarknet portal show. Retail prices of tomato rose 61% as on April 30 from a year ago, according to the data.

Among vegetables, wholesale potato prices in April witnessed the steepest increase of 92% at 1604 a quintal from a year ago. As on April 30, retail potato prices soared 49.3% on-year, official data show.

Onion, the base ingredient of most Indian dishes, rose 67.7% in the same month to settle at 1362 a quintal at the wholesale level. At the retail level as on April 30, onion prices were up 53.2% from a year ago.

On May 4, the government lifted its ban on export of onions as officials cited normal availability, stable prices and robust output from the rabi or winter-sown crop, a move that will benefit traders and farmers of poll-bound Maharashtra, the country’s biggest producer of the vegetable.

Simultaneously, the country imposed a minimum export price (MEP) of $550 per tonne plus 40% tariff on outbound onion shipments. MEP is a floor price below which traders can’t export. It’s a regulatory tool designed to discourage too much exports at cheap rates.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD), the national weather bureau, has predicted higher-than-normal temperatures and cycles of potentially fatal heatwaves until the arrival of monsoon rains in June. To be sure, the IMD has forecast an above-normal monsoon, which augurs well for summer crops, which account for half of the country’s annual food supply and are crucial to keeping prices stable.

“Hot weather has not only affected health of crops but has spoiled a lot of perishable crops in storage in regions where temperatures have been high. Water bodies have dried up and there is crisis of drinking and irrigation,” said farm expert Ram Moria of Samaj Pragati Sahayog, an NGO in Madhya Pradesh’s Devas.

The IMD on Wednesday issued fresh heatwave warnings for regions such as such Saurashtra, Kutch Vidarbha, Rayalaseema, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, interior Karnataka, west Rajasthan, east Rajasthan and west Madhya Pradesh.

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