Sharp drop in vegetable prices as buyers stay in
The prices of fruits and vegetables in wholesale markets over the past week highlights the steep fall in the price of farm produce in the face of a drop in consumer demand during the lockdown imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic, experts said.Updated: May 27, 2020 01:39 IST
Cherries for Rs 30/lg wholesale in Shimla; the fruit of the season, mango, for Rs 25/ kg wholesale in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur; and tomato for Rs 10/ kg wholesale in Bengal’s Siliguri .
The prices of fruits and vegetables in wholesale markets over the past week highlights the steep fall in the price of farm produce in the face of a drop in consumer demand during the lockdown imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic, experts said. No rebound is likely in the coming weeks and months, they added.
“Demand is at rock bottom,” said Devendra Sharma, a Chandigarh-based independent farm expert. “The biggest consumer of the perishable products is the hospitality industry, other than individuals. There are no signs of the industry opening soon. And when it opens, there will not be many customers. So, I don’t expect the demand to improve dramatically in the coming months.”.
India expects a bumper production of fruits and vegetables because of an above-normal 2019 monsoon and good winter rainfall. The agriculture ministry’s advance horticulture produce estimate was 313.5 million tonnes for the 2020 season, the highest in five years.
The absence of bulk purchases during the lockdown enforced on March 25, which shut public eateries and confined residents indoors, has dented overall demand.
“Even households are not buying in huge quantities because of the fear of infection. And there are not many signs of prices reviving soon enough to last year’s level,” said KK Sarangi, an agricultural economist in Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology.
New horticulture crops typically start arriving in the markets from March -end . The lockdown took public transport for non-essential goods off the roads, impeding their transport to the markets this year. As the government eased transport norms, some big vegetable wholesale markets including Asia’s biggest fruit and vegetable market at Azadpur in New Delhi and Koyambedu in Chennai were closed because they turned into Covid hot spots.
“Nobody (truckers) is willing to take my cherry produce to Delhi or Chandigarh,” said Surinder Singh Bragta after selling his best quality produce for Rs 30 a kilogram in Shimla’s wholesale fruit market. “Last year, I sold similar quality cherry for Rs 100 a kilogram in Chandigarh. I don’t know what will happen to pears and apples which could be harvested in the nest few months. Commission agents are saying this will be worst year for fruits as demand is low.”
More than 2,000 kilometers away in Madhya Pradesh’s Neemuch district, Tarun Baheti, a vegetable farmer, said there were no buyers in the market other than local traders. “After so many years, we had a good crop of vegetables. But no one is willing to pay the right price.”
“Due to lockdown restrictions, we cannot take the produce to bigger markets. Ladies’ finger (okra) bottle gourd, sponge gourd used to be sold for a maximum of Rs 40 to Rs 50 per kg in the last season but now the rate has come down to about Rs 15 per kg in the wholesale market. Pumpkin is being sold at Rs 5 to Rs 10 per kg,” he added.
In Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district, Ram Saran Verma, a farmer who has won the Padma Shri award for work in agriculture, said wholesale markets were empty in what has been a good harvest season.
“There are no buyers. Even the cost to transport the produce to market is not being recovered,” he said.
Another Barabanki farmer, Dinesh Rawat, said he lost Rs 1 lakh in May alone because he was not able to transport his cucumber produce to Lucknow, Sultanpur and Agra. “I had to sell it at a local mandi for whatever price it fetched,” he said.
In some states such as Bihar, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, there have been reports of farmers throwing away their produce. Verma said most farmers already lost money this year and either threw away their produce or fed it to cattle.
“This year we left the produce in the field itself as there is no point in selling ladies’ finger for Rs 2 per kg” said Bechan Yadav, a farmer in rural Patna.
Mritunjay Kumar, a farmer of Sohsarai in Nalanda district, said the cost of transporting the vegetables to the market was more than the selling price. “It is better to give vegetables to cattle, at least they will get some nutrition,” he said.
In Odisha’s Dhenkanal district, the pumpkin harvest is rotting in the farms. Manas Barik, who harvested three tonnes of pumpkins on five acres of land in Dhenkanal, said he found no takers for his produce. “The traders want us to sell pumpkin at Rs 5 a kg. It does not cover even transport cost.”
The distress is visible in fruit markets, too.
In Gaddiannaram fruit market at Kothapet in Hyderabad, Telangana’s largest fruit and vegetable wholesale market, the prices are the lowest in years.
“For the last four years, the price of mangoes was between Rs 60,000 to Rs 1.20 lakh per tonne depending on the variety. This year, it is Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 per tonne,” said Telangana Fruit Merchants’ Association president Ashok Kumar. He said the prices of sweet lime (mosambi) had come down from Rs 50,000 a tonne to less than Rs 20,000 a tonne.
“There is essentially no demand,” Kumar added
Some are and hoping things will be normal after Lockdown 4.0 ends on May 31.
“We hope that the farmer may start getting decent price from August onwards,”said Patna district agriculture officer Rakesh Ranjan.
Officials at the Karnataka Horticulture Producers Co-operative Marketing and Processing Society (HOPCOMS) claimed that prices have recovered in the past one week with the easing of lockdown norms.
“Prices of vegetables like onion, potato and others are more stable than the easier perishables such as greens, beans, tomato, capsicum, cucumber which wilt in the summer sun,” said a HOPCOMS official who requested anonymity.
(With inputs from state bureaus)