Red Mud (Tomato) Brought Smiles to The Farmers in Sangali, Maharashtra

Red Mud (Tomato) Brought Smiles to The Farmers in Sangali, Maharashtra
Red Mud (Tomato) Brought Smiles to The Farmers in Sangali, Maharashtra

A folk Marathi writer Sh. Bhaskar Chandashiv has written a very famous story "Lal Chikhal '' in marathi meaning Red Mud. It critically reiterates the worst conditions of tomato farmers about three-four decades back. Even today, we watch news about low rates of tomatoes forcing farmers to be thrown on roads or fields.

Even today, we watch news about low rates of tomatoes forcing farmers to be thrown on roads or fields. Contrastingly the rate also goes up, even touching hundreds in the market. There are many reasons for this fluctuation in tomato prices. Main reason is the general mentality to cultivate tomatoes after hiked rates in the market and it is further coupled with middleman influence.

 But recent eruptions of the pandemic affected the farming community severely due to the close down of the market in 2020 as well as a second wave in 2021.

Why did tomato rates increase??

Nowadays agricultural crops are the most affected sector under intensified climate extremes. Temperature rise (more than 40 degree) in tomato growing belt during April & May 2022 affected growth and yield significantly. In tomato, reduced irrigation causes an attack of red mites and it is almost uncontrollable during the last two years. If more moisture or irrigation causes wilting of plants further reduction in yield. Due to these, tomatoes were cultivated in fewer areas. Demand was steeply increased due to shortage of tomato and social functions like marriage, village fare and different ceremonies.

Rate of tomatoes in last two years

Covid pandemic destroyed tomato farmers severely due to lockdown in the field and further left animals in the field. Post lockdown, as bindings removed and vegetable mandis started running smoothly helped to get rates about 10 to 35 per kg in March, April, May, June and July of 2021. This slight increase in prices enhanced the area under tomato cultivation drastically from August to February and further tomato flooded in the market and it collapsed. The period of July 2020 to September 2021 was not good for farmers and rates never crossed the mark of Rs. 15 per kg. Tomatoes have been thrown on roads and become red mud once again.In 2020, discoloration and premature ripening due to mysterious virus caused about 70 per cent loss in Maharashtra leading to severe farmer distress in the districts of Nashik, Ahmednagar, Satara and Pune. Again, in September 2021, a surge of tuta leafminers with red mites and heavy rains in the tomato growing region of Maharashtra hit badly and rate shooted up. So, farmers of Maharashtra didn't cultivate tomatoes and now rates have rampantly increased.

Economics of Farmers

Me (Sangram chavan, Scientist at ICAR-National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management, Baramati) and my brother, mainly involved in farming (Vikram Chavan, Dy operator in Mahavitaran Electricity board state) being employed in central and state Government, respectively, have been engaged in farm activity for the last 10 years with help from relatives.

Basically, our region is a sugarcane belt even though the majority of farmers are now searching for new options.  As Sugarcane is not really giving money if we see its economics closely. This year, we were forced to burn our standing sugarcane crop for harvesting as it is easy to harvest for labourers and a huge area.

Farmers see tomatoes as red gold or lottery, as it gives huge money in a couple of months as compared to other crops. "Long term slowdown of tomato rates brings higher rates, this is analyzed over the last 7 years of data, as we maintain with us". We have been watching market rates on a daily basis, contacting farmers and markets in the different regions, and also contacting major tomato nurseries about their turnover of seedlings. With this information, my brother and I made the decision to cultivate tomatoes on 1st July 2021 on 25 guntha followed by 1 September in 2021 on 30 gunha. For these, we received rates about 20 to 40 per kg. On both the plots, we spent about Rs 220000 for seedlings, Land preparation, labours, pesticides and transport. A total 22 tonnes tomato yield in the July plot and 15 tonnes in the September plot was received. A net income of Rs 7.80 lakh from both the plots. With discussion and our own assessment, we decided not to cultivate tomatoes in December 2021 to February 2022. On 1st February, we planted tomato, a Syngenta variety (SAHO VARIETY) which looks like desi type and has a good market in Mumbai. Our plot started yielding from Mid-March 2022 we received a rate of Rs 10 to 40 per kg.

This apple shaped desi type tomato does not have a market locally, so we have sent it to Mumbai. So, we are engaged ourselves in vegetable cultivation. In 2018 we purchased MahindraPick up to transport our produce to markets in Karad, Pune and Mumbai. We experienced that if a farmer doesn't visit the market with his produce, he receives at least 5 to 10 rupees lower rate than actual due to the middlemen chain. Market visit had added huge to our thinking on produce and market rate.

Sh. Vikram Chavan

In 2021, other sugarcane farmers started interacting with us and we advocated for group cultivation of vegetables. This helped us to take our own vehicle to market, so we got two benefits one is transportation or fuel cost distributed among other farmers and the vegetable vendor realized the potential of continuous supply.

So, during low market rates of tomatoes in February, we decided to cultivate tomatoes on a minimum half acre of land with each other. As we have predicted that from 20th April 2022 onwards prices will start increasing based on our experience. In the first and second week of May 2022, tomato rates crossed almost 50 per kg in the local market. On 18th May 2022, I received about Rs 70 per kg and my fellow farmers about 60-65 per kg. Currently, we have staggered planting of tomatoes 1st Feb, 1st march and 5th April, 2022 and hoping we will be getting good rates. Our February plot gave about 15 to 35 per kg, now March plot harvesting giving above 50 rupees and till the end of August this rate will prevels. This rate is due to lower area under cultivation, low yield due to temperature, tuta leafminer & wilt attack and high demand due to marriage season. This March planting will give about 4 to 5 lakhs net profit to us. In the Karad market, our tomato received the season's highest rate of Rs 70 per kg.

Own experience

Market knowledge is a crucial parameter in vegetable farming. Last 7 years in tomato, gave good experience about Cultivation practices, pest and diseases control and nutrient management. Based on market rates, we modify our management schedule and application of pesticides. Group farming also added sugar to this, it shared transportation costs and put pressure on middlemen to give good rates. Our whole family is continuously working so the cost for labour minimizes and receives net profit.

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