The reasons why tomato prices have caught fire depends upon who do you really want to believe, because there are two versions making rounds.
The first version revolves around the natural demand-supply phenomenon. Waheed Ahmed of All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Association says the reason why prices shot up was because the extended heat wave had negatively affected the crop cycle.
Haji Shahjehan, Chairman Falahi Anjuman Wholesale Vegetable Market at Karachi, concurs and adds that tomato prices also shot up because its prices in India-–one of Pakistan’s main tomato import source-–rose substantially due to Diwali season.
Shahjehan also affirms the notion that tomato prices usually rise near Muharram, as the holy month is marked by religious gatherings. Sources also say that there was a delay in harvest as many tomato harvesters are of Hindu religion, some of whom are on holidays to celebrate Diwali.
Both Shahjehan and Waheed contend that tomato supply from Sindh is likely to be available from November 15, which means that prices will gradually start tapering off after that date. But, before you heave a sigh of relief, the second version-–one that revolves around ‘artificial’ demand-supply gap —ought to be heard.
Ibrahim Mughal Chairman Pakistan Agri Forum disputes the view that prices will taper off any time before February 2014, when supply from Punjab hits the market. He agrees that supply from Sindh will begin from the middle of this month, but maintains that prices will remain north as hoarders will continue to create an artificial supply shortage.
Ibrahim says middlemen have bought tomatoes in the range of Rs12-Rs20 per kilogram from farmers, and have hoarded the commodity (in cold storage) in anticipation of the heat problem.
In such a scenario, one would have thought that the government would take some measures and clarify the matter. But, till the time of writing this piece, the government was missing in action; although the administration in Karachi had reportedly ordered the tomatoes to be sold at Rs66 per kilogram when, in fact, prices had shot up to Rs160-Rs200 per kilogram.
Shahjehan of Karachi Sabzimandi disagrees with the view that tomatoes have been hoarded. But, since the technology to cold store unripe tomatoes for up to four weeks (and ripe tomatoes for one week) does exist, it wouldn’t be too much to ask from the government to run an inventory check at suspected warehouses. Besides, the government’s job should be governance and planning instead of price fixing.
As for consumers, they will find out which version is true, come mid-November.