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January 27, 2021

Sindh growers destroying tomato crops after price crash


January 27, 2021

KARACHI: Tomato farmers in Sindh have started wasting their harvest-ready crops worth millions as a price crash has made it impossible for them to even break even, sector officials said on Tuesday.

“Prices are so down that growers are unable to get the cost of production back. Thus, they were removing tomato crop from fields. Two days back, some growers did destroy their crop,” said Mehmood Nawaz Shah, senior vice president Sindh Abadgar Board, while talking to The News.

“Though it’s not unusual, it was government’s policy failure that led to this situation. While local onion and tomato were being harvested, traders were still importing them from overseas; however, tomato imports came to a halt after its local prices hit a rock bottom.” Shah said tomato was being sold at around Rs5 to Rs7/kg with delivery in Karachi Wholesale Vegetable and Fruits market.

“Onion also met the same fate this season, as its export was banned for 15 days and import continued. Thus, price of onion plummeted to Rs10 with delivery in the market from Rs65/kg before the ban. It not only dented rural economy big time, but also cost the country millions of dollars in foreign exchange,” Shah added.

Until last week, he said, tomato was being imported and it was in surplus here.

“We wrote a letter to the Ministry of National Food Security to stop the import of tomatoes, but to no avail. The import stopped only after local tomato prices nosedived.”

Shah said the vegetables that could be exported were being imported, which was a two-side attack on farmers.

“If there is a support or floor price, you can control it through import or export, but the problem is there is none,” he said.

Muhammad Ismail Rahu, Sindh Minister for Agriculture, had also written a letter to the federal government few days back demanding a ban on import of tomato.

Haji Shah Jehan, a trader at Karachi Wholesale Vegetable Market, said that tomato prices vary in the market, adding, sometimes they reach up to Rs400/kg, and at others they bottom.

“When tomato prices reach the highest level, only 10 percent growers get the benefit, as 90 percent growers, usually small farmers, do not grow the crop that season,” Shah Jehan said. “When farmers run losses in one season, they do not grow tomato during the other with the exception of some big growers, while demand in the local market is met through imports.”

Lowest prices were a blessing for the tomato ketchup making companies, who enjoy buying at lower rates and store it.

Shah Jehan said there was no government support to the growers, who were compelled to borrow from the middlemen in the market. “Provincial and federal governments should provide their policy. They should stop substandard seeds and pesticides,” he said.

“There is a support mechanism in our neighbouring country, India. The government there provides seeds, fertilisers, and even water to farmers, who are free to sell their produce anywhere and the state also buys from them,” he said, adding, “That's why they don’t need our potatoes or tomatoes despite the growing needs of their huge population".