Tomato Troubles: Viral Veil Shadows Karnataka's Harvest Hub

Tomato Leaf Curl Virus wreaks havoc on Kolar's agricultural ecology, driving up tomato prices. As yields decline and prices rise, farmers, traders, and consumers are fighting to survive.


ToLCV Infected Tomato Plants, Kolar; Pic: Arjun.T


Written by Arjun.T and Shivasharan.MR Gowda

NSoJ student reporters Arjun.T and Shivasharan.MR Gowda , visited the tomato production hub of India, Kolar, for a ground report on the spiralling prices of the essential commodity in our households.

Supply Chain

CMR tomato Mandi, Kolar; Pic: Arjun. T.

At CMR Tomato Mandi, we observed that the auction was ongoing, and the highest recorded price for a crate (14-15 kg) of tomatoes was between Rs 2000-2100. This translates to a wholesale price of approximately Rs 133-150 per kg. We spoke to Mr Saleem H, a tomato dealer with over 30 years of experience, who confirmed that this was the highest price paid for tomatoes in years.

Mr Saleem, a trader in CMR tomato mandi, Kolar; Pic: Arjun.T.

Mr Saleem highlighted that the profit margin for everyone involved is low unless farmers manage to obtain a good crop. He explained that tomatoes brought to the market are categorized into three grades: grade 1, grade 2, and grade 3. Grade 1 tomatoes are of export quality, partially green, and have good size and freshness, valued at 2000-2100 rupees per crate. These crates are usually exported to countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, and the UAE and sent to various Indian states. Grade 2 tomatoes are slightly riper and of uneven size, primarily traded within the state and with states like Orissa and Chhattisgarh, with prices ranging from Rs 1500-1900 per crate. Grade 3 tomatoes, fully ripe and often small in size, are acquired by small-scale vegetable sellers, restaurants, and processing units.

Due to price hikes and reduced production, it has become increasingly challenging to generate profits. Mr Saleem emphasized that this situation affects everyone, including traders, and farmers, except for those fortunate enough to achieve a good yield. He mentioned that “instead of the usual 10000 crates, there are now only 3000 crates of produce available”. As a result, he no longer has the confidence to trade tomatoes in more states.

Reasons for lack in Production

The underlying reason for the rising tomato prices is the Tomato Leaf Curl Virus (ToLCV), which has infected more than 50% of the plants.

Dr Shivanad in KVK Office, Kolar. Pic: Arjun.T.

We visited Krishi Vigyana Kendra (KVK) Kolar and spoke to Dr Shivanand. M a senior scientist and head of KVK. Dr Shivanand explained that the lack of rain this year allowed the virus to thrive as monsoon rains usually help wash off the ToLCV. Whiteflies serve as the dominant vectors transmitting the virus, and their population has increased due to the dry climate. There is also a suspicion that a new species of white flies may be contributing to the transmission, but further testing is required for confirmation.

Dr Shivanand identified three main reasons for the spread of infection and reduced tomato production. Firstly, there is a lack of organized seed accounting and acquisition. Although the KVK department regulates the quality checks for seeds sold in the state, nurseries often neglect the regulations imposed to produce healthy seedlings. Secondly, the use of high-molecule pesticides has made the viruses and vectors immune to them, making it difficult to break the virus transmission chain. Finally, the dry climate has contributed to the increase in white fly populations.

“We suggest chemicals recommended by the department, employing nylon mesh nets to prevent flies from accessing the plants, and using quality and government-regulated seeds. Barrier plants at boundaries before planting tomatoes, practising crop rotation to avoid staggering crops within the same family, and discouraging monocropping are some of the other steps”, he added.

Dr Shivanand also ruled out water provided through KC valley canal as the vector for the virus they tested the water and soil and found that heavy metals and chemicals were within permissible limits.

Initiatives towards the ‘Solution’

Dr Shivanand mentioned that initiatives have been undertaken to spread awareness among farmers. Group discussions and awareness programs have already begun, along with the distribution of pamphlets and online advisories. Guides on growing tomatoes from inception are being circulated through pharmacies and other channels, and nurseries are being educated to produce healthy seedlings. Specific farming methods for tomatoes will also be taught to the farmers.

The Farmers

Mr Raghunath, farmer, Gandlahalli, Kolar; Pic: Arjun. T .

Mr Raghunath from Gandlahalli planted 1.5 acres of tomatoes and observed minimal infection in the first batch scheduled for harvest in two weeks. He attributed his success to using regular packet fertilizers, growth regulators, and pesticides. He mentioned that using “hybrid seeds, particularly the Chaitanya Yogi variety, resulted in a good yield compared to older seeds like Sahoo and 6242”.

Mr Ravi. G, Farmer, Kuppalli, Kolar; Pic: Arjun. T

On the other hand, Mr Ravi G. from Kuppalli had a different experience. Out of his 8 acres under tomato cultivation, 5 acres were infected with the virus, resulting in an estimated loss of around 2 crores. In an attempt to salvage the situation, he used a pile of pesticides and growth regulators, referring to YouTube and pharmacy recommendations for guidance.

The Consumers

Regarding awareness among consumers, there were reports of McDonald's removing tomatoes from their menu due to the price hike. However, an employee from a McDonald's outlet in Bengaluru clarified that alterations to the menu or ingredient lists require directives from the company headquarters and no such memo had been received. Consumers, such as Sindhu, a teacher, expressed frustration over rising prices, affecting their household budgets while their salaries remained stagnant.

Inflation Good or Bad

“When inflation is brought on by rising consumer demand, farmers stand to gain from it. Demand will increase output, and if we can control it or tap into the global supply chain, we can keep inflation at a healthy positive level that will help both the producers and the country's economy. In other words, regulated inflation can be beneficial”, said Santhosh Joseph Founder Partner & CEO - Germinate Investor Services.

In Conclusion

The rising price of tomatoes in India, due to the Tomato Leaf Curl Virus (ToLCV) and other factors, has impacted the cultivation, buying, selling, and exporting of the essential item. The severity of the situation necessitates immediate action both from the authorities and farmers, such as raising awareness and implementing effective measures to control the virus. The government's failure to inform the farmers with the necessary information on steps to face this virus which can be remedied only by addressing these issues collectively. Only this can work towards stabilizing the prices and ensure the availability of this popular fruit.

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