PUNE: Tomato being a perishable crop faces many issues due to its short shelf life. In addition, lack of logistical systems and supply value chains causes delays and wastages, resulting in severe reduction in farmers’ income.
Deepak Bhise of the Tomato Utpadak Sangh in Narayangaon near Pune, said, “Even after spending Rs 2 to 3 per kg on transportation, a farmer has to face 30 per cent wastage. Because of its short shelf life, we cannot send the produce on our own to markets like Delhi and Kolkata as it rots by the time it reaches there.”
Recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the policy focus on TOP, ie, tomato, onion and potato and the finance minister underlined ‘Operation Green’ to improve logistics and storage facilities required for perishable agricultural commodities. The government’s focus on food processing options could be seen in the Union Budget. Rs 500 crore has been allocated to ‘Operation Green’ and Rs 1,400 crore allocated for incentivising the food processing industry.
Food processing industry a small sector
“Food processing is a good option but currently it is a small sector. Customers prefer fresh vegetables. The variety in which tomato can be processed is less. We want vehicles with refrigeration facilities so we can reach further markets. If the government could provide them at lower costs, that would help,” Bhise said, adding, “The food processing companies purchase the lowest grade produce for flavour, puree, ketchup etc. which is a small quantity.”
Innovations are few
Individuals have come forward with innovations. Yatish Vasudeo, a researcher from Mumbai, created a packaging material which delays the ripening process. “Tomato, like many other fruits, breathes even after it is plucked. It takes in oxygen and gives out carbon dioxide, water and heat. In this, carbohydrates and other substances important to the product’s freshness, taste and health quality are broken down,” Vasudeo said. He said about his packaging bags, ‘Satej’, “Fruit and vegetables expel ethylene. Ethylene is a gas which accelerates the ripening process in fruit and vegetables. Our packaging bags absorb these gases and extend the ripening process by at least 15 days.”
Value chain a must
Experts say along with transportation and packaging, a healthy value chain is a must for perishables. “Perishables need an assembly line like setup. The producer and the buyer should be tightly knit in a chain. There needs to be a political economy behind crops for the government to be compelled to intervene and assure returns. Perishables lack that kind of political appeal,” said Sunil Tambe, an agriculture analyst.
Govt should not control export market
Bhise says the government should stop controlling the export markets and farmers will solve their own problems. “We see a lot of demand from markets in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. We grow the export quality crop, but the government suddenly bans export and even if allowed, we do not have the facilities to export,” Bhise said, adding that their produce can be exported too just like grapes, pomegranates and other fruits.
“Once the export markets open up, the urban consumer in India will see a price rise. The politicians want to keep their urban vote banks happy. Farmers are not responsible for comfort of the urban consumer,” Bhise asserts.