Tomato farmers step up vigil around fields amid theft scare | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Tomato farmers step up vigil around fields amid theft scare

By, New Delhi
Aug 10, 2023 12:17 AM IST

Consumers are fretting about costly tomatoes as prices rose 64.5% on a month-on-month basis in June (over May 2023), according to official data

Harvesting of fresh tomato crops is weeks away in states such as Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, but it’s not business as usual. Farmers say they are keeping tight round-the-clock vigil on their fields, a rarity, to keep thieves from stealing what has become India’s priciest kitchen staple.

Wholesale tomato markets in Kolar and Nashik have tightened security in warehouses and installed surveillance cameras (PTI)
Wholesale tomato markets in Kolar and Nashik have tightened security in warehouses and installed surveillance cameras (PTI)

Consumers are fretting about costly tomatoes as prices rose 64.5% on a month-on-month basis in June (over May 2023), according to official data. Inflation in the widely consumed vegetable in July will be even higher when figures are released this month because prices have soared further north.

Tomato growers, who often incur losses, are reaping a rare season of super profits but are having to guard against increasing cases of theft and even robbery of the vegetable because of its high demand. A farmer from Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh, Chandramouli, grabbed headlines recently for earning 4 crore by selling tomatoes from his 25-acre farm.

Narayan Sidha Rao, a large grower of tomatoes in Karnataka’s Kolar, last week lodged a police complaint after unknown people harvested his crop under the cover of darkness, making a clean sweep of produce worth 15 lakh, according to his complaint.

Rao first complained to a local union of horticulture farmers and the panchayat (village level administration), which approached the police. “We have been told the produce will be recovered because the thieves will be identified once they come to the mandi (market) to sell it off,” Prabhakar Kumar of the Kolar Wholesalers’ Association said.

Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are main producers of tomato, whose supplies have bottomed out after crops were damaged by heavy rain. Karnataka’s Kolar is a tomato-growing hub. The crop is selling for an average retail price of 160 a kg, way above normal.

On July 10, a truck laden with 2,000kg tomatoes was robbed while the owner was transporting the produce from Hiriyur town in Chitradurga of the state to Kolar’s main food yard, a local market official said.

In many economies, food produce is marketed with barcodes, which offer traceability, but not so in India. In what is a largely informal trade, tracking stolen vegetables can be tough.

On July 14, Naram Rajasekhar Reddy, a tomato grower from Andhra Pradesh’s Annamaya district, was murdered. Police suspect the reason for the murder was to rob the 30 lakh the farmer had earned selling tomatoes, according to Rythu Sangathana, a local farm group.

Wholesale tomato markets in Kolar (Karnataka) and Nashik (Maharashtra) have tightened security in warehouses and installed surveillance cameras, a supply-chain intermediary from Nashik said. Tomato growers are surely raking in wads of cash but not all farmers of the pricey produce are smiling all the way to the bank.

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