Views | Katrina Kaif, La Tomatino and reforming the farm economy

Views | Katrina Kaif, La Tomatino and reforming the farm economy

Those who have been smitten by watching Hrithik Roshan falling in love with Katrina Kaif as they threw tomatoes at each other in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, the Hindi film, may be disappointed by a recent development in Karnataka.

Sadanand Gowda, chief minister of the southern state, last month cancelled a local version of the Spanish La Tomatino festival. Gowda felt that wasting tomatoes has no place in a country where thousands fail to get two square meals every day.

Good point. But in another part of the country, farmers have thrown many tonnes of tomatoes in the streets in protest.

That was Jharkhand in December 2010. The farmers were angry in this Naxalite-threatened state because high tomato prices had at first lured unemployed locals into its cultivation. Tomatoes are highly perishable, and need to either reach urban markets quickly or be stored in cold chains or bottled as ketchups. The average Jharkhand farmer does not have access to either major urban markets, adequate refrigeration facilities or a robust food processing industry.

So the farmers were left at the mercy of middlemen, who are in a better position to handle the product. Newspaper reports suggest that while it cost farmers Rs5-6 to produce on kilogram of tomatoes, the middle men were offering less than that to buy the crop. So the farmers decide to dump their produce, just 70km away from Ranchi, the state capital.

Like tomatoes, lots of other farm produce is wasted in India because of lack of proper storage, cooling and transport infrastructure. Around a third of fresh farm produce is wasted, according to unofficial estimates. Even stocks of rice and wheat, which are easier to store, are mismanaged by the government procurement agencies.

What the Indian economy needs is better rural roads, large retail chains that will invest in nationwide cold chains, good forward markets that will allow farmers to plan production. Letting food rot by the roadside is as morally unacceptable as pelting tomatoes at each other.