Vegetable prices go through the roof in Kerala following unseasonal rains

Representational image. File photo.

Kottayam:  Prices of several vegetables have doubled over the last few days following heavy rains in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where they are cultivated widely. Traders in Kottayam market said that trucks transporting vegetables from other states to Kerala have also raised their charges.

Apparently, that too had an impact on the prices. The most significant rise was witnessed for tomato and beans. While tomatoes used to cost Rs 28 a kg a fortnight ago, the item is sold at Rs 120 now in the wholesale market and at around Rs 160 in retail outlets.

Similarly, the price of beans has zoomed past Rs 100 a kg in wholesale shops and Rs 120 in retail sales, from Rs 50 a few days ago.

To reduce expenses, many restaurants and other eateries are now avoiding tomato and beans in the traditional lunch. For instance, ‘beans thoran’, a regular dish, is missing in the meal served.

‘Foreign’ vegetables too not spared

Vegetables which are used in fast food and cuisine from other countries have also turned dear. Capsicum now costs Rs 90 a kg in place of Rs 70-75 a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, the multi-coloured capsicums in pizza are priced at Rs 300.

Broccoli – an integral part of Chinese and Italian cuisines - also sells at Rs 300, while it was priced at Rs 80 till recently. Similarly, the price of cabbage used in shawarma and burgers has gone up from Rs 100 to 250.

‘Kit’ unavailable

After the vegetable prices spiraled upwards, most vendors have ceased supplying ‘kits’ comprising an assortment of items. These kits were sold at Rs 100 each. “But, in the present situation, 250 g of tomato alone would cost Rs 25,” pointed out a trader.

The most popular vegetables in retail shops are beans, tomato, long beans, lady’s fingers, scarlet gourd, green chilli, carrot and cabbage. 

Causes for hike

Even though the biggest vegetable harvests take place in April and May, the unexpected heavy showers this year destroyed crops.

According to data with the Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council of Kerala, the quantity of vegetables brought by farmers to the local markets in Kottayam district has fallen steeply. While, earlier, each farmer brought several quintals of vegetables such as long beans, bitter gourd and snake gourd, the amount is a mere 10-25 kg now.

In Kottayam, cultivation has been affected in all areas, except Avarma and Thrikkodithanam. 

Apart from rain, the hike in prices of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides also has made vegetables costlier. In fact, fertilizers are now dearer by more than 50 per cent. 

Labour charges too have witnessed a hike recently, impacting vegetable prices. Moreover, a large number of farmers gave up the vocation following the losses they suffered during the floods of 2018 and later years. This led to reduction in output.

Govt intervention

Taking account of the crisis, the state government has decided to declare floor prices for five more vegetables and fruits. They are elephant yam, pumpkin, bottle gourd, brinjal and watermelon.

At present, floor price has been fixed for tapioca, banana, pineapple, ash gourd, cucumber, snake gourd, long beans, tomato, lady’s fingers, cabbage, carrot, potato, beans, beetroot and garlic.

Meanwhile, a meeting convened by Agriculture Minister P Prasad decided to direct Horticorp to procure vegetables from farmers and sell them at moderate rates to the people. The meeting also entrusted the Agricultural Director to create a special fund to engage in market intervention when vegetable prices shoot up in future.

Planning goes haywire

Most farmers in Kerala follow a traditional calendar related to planting and harvesting. As per the calendar, planting of seeds of vegetables such as elephant yam and yam under ‘thanvarsha krishi’ takes place in March and April before the southwest monsoon.

By the time monsoon sets in, these seeds would have sprouted and the saplings grow fast during rains. However, heavy rains this month have destroyed the seeds planted by farmers, causing crop loss.

Meanwhile, for bananas, pests have caused severe damage apart from incessant rains. 

Incidentally, farmers who lose crops rarely seek compensation even though they are eligible for government aid. This is because the amount paid is very low.

Copra procurement

In a related move, the meeting under the Minister also decided to send the state’s Agricultural Secretary to Delhi to seek concessions from the Centre on copra procurement by NAFED. The current procurement prices of copra and coconut are Rs 105.90 and Rs 32 respectively.

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