New Delhi: Vegetable prices have gone through the roof this winter, typically a time of the year when prices cool thanks to greater supplies and more varieties arriving in markets.

Lower sowing and surprise rains depressed production this year, traders said, leading to a 59.8% jump in wholesale vegetable prices in November from a year ago. At the retail level, prices were up 22.5%.

“In the past few months, there has been a spate of unseasonal rains in various states like Karnataka and Maharshtra which damaged crops and led to lower production and market arrivals," said Metha Ram Kriplani, president of the vegetable traders’ association at Delhi’s Azadpur mandi. Kriplani also added that in the case of crops like tomatoes, farmers suffered huge losses due to a price crash following the note ban in November 2016, and therefore planted less this year.

To be sure, the inflation spike is also thanks partly to the so-called base effect—in November last year, wholesale vegetable prices had fallen 17% year on year.

Planting of kharif onions was 29% lower this year, and market arrivals of tomatoes were down about 39% in November year on year, agriculture ministry data showed.

The result: while retail prices of tomatoes rose 148% in November year-on-year, from Rs18 per kg to Rs45 per kg, onion prices rose by about 200%—from Rs16 per kg to Rs47 per kg.

Besides, retailers kept a handsome margin. Data from Azadpur mandi showed that the average price for cauliflower this week was a modest Rs12 per kg while retailers sold it for as high as Rs40 per kg.

Usually, retailers keep a margin of 80-100% over wholesale rates to account for the risks involved in selling highly perishable commodities like vegetables.

“Prices in northern India are high this year due to late planting of nearly all winter vegetables due to a spurt in (untimely) rains in October," said Pravesh Sharma, founder and CEO of Sabziwala, a start-up which sources vegetables from farmers and supplies to consumers in Delhi through a network of neighbourhood retail stores.

“In about two weeks’ time, the market is likely to be flush with these vegetables leading to a significant fall in prices," Sharma said, adding, “supplies of horticulture produce are uneven due to a weak extension system. Farmers pick up market signals but do not have access to timely advice on varieties, technology and mechanisation."

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