Tomato prices have soared to Rs300 per kilo but who is responsible?
The man handling our country’s finances, Economic Adviser Hafeez Sheikh, has no idea. When asked, he said tomatoes were being sold for Rs17 per kilo in the farmers’ market.
We found out when this shortage will stop but first, we have to understand why prices are going up. If prices are going up, they should be reflected in the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics’ data but the data for October and November showed an approximate 5% decrease in tomato prices.
So what happened?
On November 1, a shipment of tomatoes was supposed to go to Karachi but was spoilt due to the rain. Where there were 40 trucks bringing tomatoes to Karachi every day, now there are just two trucks. That means there’s a shortage.
The tomatoes we’re eating right now are from Afghanistan and Iran, which means they’re expensive.
But what plays the biggest role in this crisis? It’s partly climate change, something Prime Minister Imran Khan has discussed a lot, both in his UN General Assembly speech and other speeches he’s made during his year in government. But there’s still no policy on it.
It isn’t just this government’s fault though. Climate change has been an issue for years. Think back to the catastrophic 2010-11 floods in Sindh and Balochistan, when crops were destroyed and a similar situation was created where tomato prices soared.
There is a three month period between tomato seeds being sown and ripe tomatoes getting to the markets where we buy them. In Balochistan, the season starts in July. Then it’s Sindh’s turn, then Balochistan again and then Sindh until finally, South Punjab’s season starts and then KP. So from June to July, tomatoes are continuously being grown somewhere in Pakistan.
In fact, we make enough to eat and export. We export an estimated 3,000 tons of tomatoes every year.
The problem is in coordination–our provinces don’t share data. Our farmers don’t use technology either and so the provinces don’t help each other out when one season finishes and another starts.
We also don’t have facilities to store tomatoes. While we produce enough to eat and export, we don’t store any for our own later use.
Another area in which Pakistan could grow is greenhouse farming, meaning we would be able to grow tomatoes round the year in greenhouses instead of waiting for the climate to be suitable. Using advanced technologies could save us from future shortages.
After November 20, the crops along the Balochistan-Sindh border are going to be ready to pick and in December Sindh’s second round of tomatoes, which didn’t get destroyed in the rains, will be ready. That means prices are probably going to go back to normal in three to six weeks.
But the price control committee also has a role to play here to ensure that prices aren’t artificially increased.