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The Kolar district in Karnataka prides itself for its tomato crop. About 9000 acres of the district is under the cultivation of the fruit that adds such flavour to our meals daily. An average of 4 lakh tonnes of tomato is cultivated here every year.
Imagine then, the tomato farmer’s plight due to the restrictions of transportation and limited market opportunity in the COVID-19 lockdown. What will they do with the barrels of harvested tomatoes? Can they weather the tremendous loss?
In this apparent bleak time for these farmers, Grama Vikas, a rural development organisation from Kolar has stepped in to help 49 families turn the produce into value-added products like dried tomato flakes and pickles. This way, they helped the farmers sell at least some of their crop and upskilled 49 women in the villages.
A Tragedy for Kolar Farmers:
Kolar is one of the major producers of tomato and usually, the business earns them neat profits. The many varieties of tomatoes grown are also exported to other countries where they have made a niche market.
This year too, the crop was great and until 23 March, about 2619 quintals of tomatoes were being brought to the markets every day. Each quintal would sell around Rs 1,133. But, the very next day, the prices dropped to a shocking Rs 133 per quintal.
The Better India (TBI) got in touch with MVN Rao, the Executive Director of Grama Vikas to understand the situation better. “There are over 340 villages in Mulbagal taluk of Kolar, where we operate, and each village has an average of five tomato farmers. The collective quantity of tomatoes produced is staggering. With the problem of transport, they could not export their harvest to Kerala, Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh like usual. And how much can they consume locally?” he says.
Tomatoes come with a very small shelf life and if not consumed within a few days of harvest, rot. It would have been a massive loss for the farmers. Government authorities did try to open up its food processing units to help farmers preserve their harvest but the farmer’s still faced many hurdles.
“We have a big issue with tomatoes. [Karnataka’s] average daily production of tomatoes is around 1,500 tonnes. Most of it comes from Kolar. We are processing around 250 tonnes of tomatoes in our units but there is a huge surplus. Chennai and Kerala are our big markets but the movement is slow,” B Venkatesh, the Director of Horticulture told New Indian Express.
Processing Tomatoes to Increase Shelf Life:
Girija MS who works in Grama Vikas administration and finance department tells Deccan Herald, “We have seen farmers struggling due to a steep drop in the demand. We thought we could support them by utilising two resources that are abundant now – the sun and the time.”
Rao further states that they purchased about one tonne of fresh produce from farmers of a Kolar village at around Rs 5/kg, a rate stated by the farmers. The organisation started the processing work in the Mulbagal Taluk, training women from 49 families to make dried flakes and pickles.
“The project has been great so far and we are hoping that the women upskill themselves and take it forward the next year too. Whenever the crop is in excess and farmers fail to sell it at a reasonable rate, such processing techniques will come in handy. So far, we have pickled 200 kg of tomatoes and the rest will be made into flakes,” he shares with TBI.
How the Tomatoes are Pickled:
- Slice the tomatoes, add salt and turmeric to them and keep them marinated for a day.
- Salt makes the tomatoes release juice. Separate the slices from the juice and add some tamarind to the tomato juice.
- Dry both the juice and the slices under the sun. Ensure to keep them away from the reach of insects and birds.
- Remove the tamarind from the juice and grind it.
- In the meantime, add red chilli powder and fenugreek powder to the tomato juice. Add the tamarind paste too. Mix this paste evenly and then add the dried tomato slices to it. Mix well again.
- Heat a vessel and pour some oil in it. Add mustard seeds, urad dal, chickpeas dal and chilli powder (to your taste). You can also add some garlic.
- Add this tempered mixture to the tomato and tamarind paste.
- Mix well and once it cools to room temperature, store in an airtight container.
Preserving Tomatoes for Future Use:
Radha, a homemaker and one of the women working with Grama Vikas in Kolar shares these steps with TBI.
- Put on gloves, masks and cap to avoid any contamination of the tomatoes. Wash them up properly and pat dry with a clean piece of cloth.
- Carefully remove the eye of the tomatoes and cut them into medium-sized pieces.
- On the roof, arrange a dry cloth and place the pieces carefully.
- Dry them in the sun for three days.
- Once ready, you can store the pieces in a plastic or a glass container and use when required.
Rao tells TBI that the shelflife of the preserved flakes is about six months and of the pickles is nearly one year. Such methods of organic processing can keep a steady inflow of income months after the tomato is harvested.
Rao hopes that this small team can assemble itself in a company, coming to the aid distressed tomato farmers, as well as themselves in the future.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)