The humble tomato, a staple in Indian kitchen, is missing from many dishes today. Given the current prices of tomatoes, the beautiful, tangy fruit is nothing short of a luxury item these days.

A kg of this delectable vegetable now costs around ₹250 and counting. India’s tomato production has already exceeded a staggering 20 million tonnes. So the availability of tomatoes is not the problem. The underlying issue is that of uncertainty in prices.

Over the past few years, the price rise of tomatoes and other vegetables has become a seasonal affair between July and September. The rabi crop of tomatoes, sown in two rounds between December and March, feeds markets well into the first half of the year. However, this year, farmers were forced to sell the first round of rabi crops for as low as ₹2.5/kg earlier this year.

Supply shortage

Rabi crops often are subjected to unprecedented heat, pest attacks, and sometimes even rain. Therefore, they are expensive to take care of. If farmers can’t get the right price for their yields, many abandon the crop to cut their losses and sow other crops. This has led to a supply shortage in July and August in the past few years.

Although native to Mexico and Peru, tomatoes are ubiquitous in Indian food. We cannot imagine our curries, rasams and chutneys without them. Is there a way of producing tomatoes that doesn’t pinch our pockets?

Working with technology can be the key to making tomatoes affordable. The use of data analytics and predictive tools can be of great help to growers across India with varied temperatures.

Tomatoes are delicate fruits that foster in lower temperatures. A dive into existing data and research on cultivation practices show that the months of May and June are particularly difficult for tomato cultivation. This leaves a small gap in the supply chain in July and August, leading to skyrocketing prices. Predictive tools can help farmers foresee weather conditions and plan their cultivation timeline accordingly. For instance, moving the sowing time ahead by a month to April can help improve yields for a particular season.

Agri-intelligent platforms

These tools can also help the government and horticulturists to identify new areas that can support tomato cultivation. In India, the rabi tomato crop is primarily grown in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka and the kharif in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Now can we use agri-intelligent platforms to determine other areas in the country where the tomato crop can thrive? Why not?

Looking at rainfall, humidity, and air temperature data across the country, it is possible to identify pockets across the country where the conditions are most suitable for growing tomatoes. By focusing on these pockets, not only can we improve the yields of tomatoes, we can create jobs and empower communities in the process.

In a nutshell, data-backed agricultural solutions can empower our farmers to make right decisions to optimise their resources and improve their yields.

Change needs to be driven

Technology can ease the burdens on farmers and help plug gaps in the ecosystem to prevent unexpected price hikes. However, it requires a massive cultural change in the farming ecosystem to leverage technology and adapt to new farming practices. This change has to be driven by government stakeholders and supported by farmers’ collectives.

Accessibility is the keyword. The technology is available but a vast majority of Indian farmers are unaware of it or don’t have access to it. The question at the heart of this price rise debate is how can we empower our farmers with the right tools. The government must support this endeavour by creating awareness and making these tools available to farmers.

For instance, if we are to identify alternative pockets for tomato cultivation, the government has to take initiative in building extensive post-harvest infrastructure and logistics. To create these tomato hubs, there will be a need for subsidies on technologies like drip irrigation and mulching paper. The acceptance and initiative of farmers’ collective will also be key in driving this transformation. And finally, for those of us working in technology, it is important to innovate and build precise tools that can empower Indian farmers and address the issues around food security in the future.

The author is Co-founder of Fyllo