TOI looked at wholesale prices of the 15 most common veggies across 19 states and found that prices of all of them, barring potatoes and lemons, had fallen in almost all the states. To discount for seasonal variations, TOI also compared prices with last May, and found the fall to be even sharper (even lemons were way more expensive in May 2019).
With state borders sealed, and supply chains hampered, what possibly led to the crashing prices was distress sale of perishable veggies and a sharp drop in demand.
“Disruption of supply chain during the lockdown is among the major reason of this collapse in prices,” said Ashok Gulati, chair professor for agriculture at ICRIER, a policy think-tank. “If we take onions, the lockdown coincided with the rabi harvest season. That crop could not be transported at that time and is now reaching the market. This has led to the crash in prices,” he added.
Raj Kumar Bhatia, general secretary of the Chamber of Azadpur Fruit & Vegetable Traders (Delhi’s biggest mandi), said, “Our supplies were largely intact but some northern states like Punjab and Himachal Pradesh enforced a strict lockdown. Azadpur mandi is their biggest supplier. And our vehicles could not cross over. So, there were incidents of distress sale.”
Bhatia added that the situation could have been better had there been clearer guidelines for local vendors who procure from Azadpur Mandi and supply to Delhi’s local markets.
Officials from APMCs (Agriculture Produce Market Committees) in the southern states, however, said their supply chains were not disrupted and the crash was probably because of a sudden drop in demand from bulk buyers like restaurants and hotels.
Also, the fact that several events like wedding feasts were put off led to a lower demand. The steep fall in wholesale prices, however, hasn’t translated into a proportional fall in retail prices, which vary significantly across markets and outlets.
So, farmers’ income has fallen while consumers haven’t benefited fully. It’s the middlemen who have raised their margin.
The average wholesale price of bhindi, or ladies’ finger, (calculated by the government’s Agmarknet portal that tracks agricultural marketing) was Rs 3.9 per kg in Chhattisgarh, down 84.6% from March 2020 and 57.3% lower than last May. While Chhattisgarh saw the sharpest drop, prices fell the least in Kerala and Karnataka.
Prices of karela (bitter gourd), too, fell in all states, the sharpest – 60% – in Punjab and Haryana. It was the same story for bottle gourd, whose prices crashed everywhere except Kerala and Karnataka.
The pricey capsicum was also humbled, selling at Rs 4.4 a kg in Punjab, down over 77%.
Garlic prices have also fallen in all states; so have green chillies, which went into a free fall in most states. Onion prices have fallen in all states while tomato is also being sold at lower prices in most of the major states.
Prices of brinjal, cabbage, ginger, cucumber and cauliflower showed mixed trends – falling in some states while rising in others.