As one travels along the Kochi-Dhanushkodi national highway, a stretch of farmlands dotted with decomposed tomatoes are seen on the Tamil Nadu side. When the price dropped to ₹3 a kilogram for tomato, farmers had left the crop unplucked. Some of them dumped heaps of ripe tomatoes by the road when they failed to get a price that would at least cover the labour cost.
Kerala is the main market for the crop produced in the border villages. In the main vegetable market at Udumalpet in Tamil Nadu, farmers had to sell a 14-kg box of tomatoes for ₹20. The cost of plucking 14 kg alone is estimated at ₹10. Hence they find plucking the crop pointless.
₹20 in Idukki
The same crop is charged ₹10 to 15 at the market at Marayur, in Idukki district, nearly 40 km from Udumalpet. In other areas of Idukki, the price is ₹20 or above.
Market sources said tomato prices nosedived following a bumper production on the border villages, facilitated by the use of high quality seeds and a favourable climate there. They cultivated varieties such as 5005, US1, and US3. The demand for tomatoes in Kerala has not dwindled, but it is not high enough to absorb this added production. Last year, the price was almost 30% higher at the time of harvest.
Boxes of tomatoes are left unsold at the Udumalpet market, which, along with Ottanchatram and Pollachi, is the main vegetable market near the border in Tamil Nadu. At Uralpatti, Edayamuthur, and Kannamanaickanur, tonnes of ripe tomatoes were found unplucked on the farms. The crop is mostly cultivated at Gudimangalam, Pethappampatti, Pollavadi, and Kurichikottai villages of Tirupur and Kumaralingam and Palani valleys of Tamil Nadu from October to January. In 45 days, it will yield fruit. In the cool-season vegetable producing villages of Kanthallur and Vattavada in Kerala, tomato is not cultivated now. It was cultivated earlier, but with poor availability of water and change in climatic conditions, farmers slowly shifted to other vegetables, said a farmer at Kanthallur.