HYDERABAD: Farmers are staging protest demonstrations against the government’s decision to import tomato from the neighbouring Iran at a time when local crop is harvest-ready in Sindh province, amid fears of more losses from wave of extreme cold looming ahead.
Reports show tomato producers are taking a serious offense to the authorities’ apathy as the latter were simply not paying any heed to their grievances, losses, and justified demands.
However, according to Haji Ikhtiar, a representative of fruit and vegetable merchants association and member Hyderabad Chamber of Commerce and Industries (HCCI), recent rains and flood had destroyed standing vegetables and crops, including tomato, which was re-cultivated two-month late.
Local tomato started coming to market from December 10, but supplies are not enough to meet the demand. That is why the government allowed traders to import Iranian tomato.
If local tomatoes were available in the market, people would not buy the imported ones as they lacked taste and freshness compared to the homegrown ones, a trader leader claimed.
He also said that the new forecast for another weather phenomenon, a cold wave at the end of this month, might create problems for the vegetable growers.
“I cannot predict, but in case it happens, growers as well as traders will face difficulties. Because we cannot afford to save food crops in extreme weather conditions,” he said.
Tomato producers in Tando Allahyar, Umerokot, and other districts during demonstrations demanded of the provincial government to stop importing tomato and let local farmers bring their product to recover losses occurred due to weather changes, including heat wave and devastating rains and flood.
Protesting farmers are pleading they are being paid Rs5/kg for tomatoes in the wholesale market, while retailers are selling them for Rs100-150/kg to consumers, which is abject exploitation of the producers of food crops at the hands of so-called ‘market forces’. Those farmers who cultivated tomato two-month late are bringing their product to market for sale but are unable to get justified rates.
Farmers believe tomato is late and may continue pouring into the market till February, March, and April.
They attributed to the extreme heat and then the rain floods in many areas, which disrupted the cultivation process of tomato. In many areas farmers attempted to cultivate it for three times; however, first an extreme heat wave and later rains and floods thwarted their efforts. Thus many farmers did not take the risk of cultivating the crop after seeing it fail twice.
Coastal farmers sold their tomato in the month of November at Rs500,000—800,000 per acre. Traders were in a hurry to buy tomatoes in fields. It was for the first time traders purchased tomatoes from the coastal farmers as they were usually forced to discard their products when there were no buyers in the market.
Anyway, farmers say only a few of them got the opportunity to sell their tomatoes in fields and recover losses; however, many are facing problems because of low rates in the market.
Gulab Shah, a farmer and community activist in Keti Bunder, Thatta district, said hardly a few days ago some lucky farmers were getting Rs2,000—2,500 for a 15kg box of tomatoes in Karachi and other markets. “But now the rates have suddenly dropped to Rs700-800 in the same 15-kg box, leaving them distressed,” Shah said adding,” Coastal farmers always face these rate issues when their crops are ripe for harvesting”.
In case of selling products at low rates, the farmers may not recover the cost of transport, labour, picking, and packing, besides cultivation and seedling buying. It is estimated that Sindh province has grown tomatoes on 26,000 acres out of which around 10,000 acres may be in coastal areas, where farmers are in trouble.
Many farmers in different districts could not cultivate tomato and chili because of the rain emergency.
Reports from Tando Muhammad Khan, one of the worst affected districts by the recent rains and flood, show that majority of farmers were seen reluctant to cultivate tomato because previous year they could not receive proper rates. But despite previous year’s loss, a few farmers took the risk to cultivate tomato again but the rain disrupted the crop.
Farmers said on one side the government was encouraging traders to import tomatoes from neighbouring countries, while on the other the authorities were reluctant to allow export of onions. Sindh province is a major producer of onion, besides fine quality of chilli and tomato.
The onion is coming to the market but the producers are unable to get proper rates, while there are also no signs of its exports in the near-term.
The rates of chili this year are high because the rains ruined standing crops in wide areas. Presently, farmers are getting Rs2,500-3,000 for a 10-12kg bag of chili.
In this situation, mostly small-scale farmers are in big trouble, as after losing their crops to heat and floods, they just were not ready for the freezing cold to claim their hard-grown crops this winter.