New Delhi () — From butter chicken to paneer makhani, Indian cuisine is unthinkable without the ubiquitous tomato.
Yet this culinary staple has disappeared from menus in homes and restaurants across the country after prices soared more than 400% due to crop failures following blistering heat waves and torrential rains, according to farmers and experts.
A kilogram of tomatoes sold this week in the capital, New Delhi, cost 138 rupees (US$1.68), a five-fold increase from the astonishing price of 27 rupees (US$0.33) recorded in January, according to data of the Department of Consumer Affairs.
Asha, a housewife from the capital who asked that only her first name be used, told the increase has hit her family of seven hard. She uses tomatoes in almost every dish she makes.
“This rise in the price of tomatoes is affecting us a lot,” he said. “Is incredible”.
“Tomatoes are an integral part of our vegetarian diet… [pero] these last two days, I am aware of what I cook because it is very expensive”.
Asha’s family isn’t the only one affected. Some McDonald’s restaurants across the country have stopped including tomatoes on their hamburgers as a temporary measure, citing quality issues and supply shortages.
Connaught Plaza Restaurants, which manages McDonald’s franchises in northern and eastern India, posted signs outside the affected restaurants saying they “were unable to source adequate quantities of tomatoes that would pass our strict international quality controls.” .
Raghav Chadha, an MP from the Aam Aadmi party, among others, shared photos of the banners on social media.
“Even McDonald’s Can’t Afford Tomatoes Anymore” Chadha wrote on Twitter. “Whether in our homes or restaurants, with inflation out of control, the government has turned happy meals into sad meals.”
One factor behind the current tomato shortage is extreme weather associated with climate change, according to Jocelyn Boiteau, a postdoctoral associate at the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition.
In recent weeks, India and other parts of Asia have been hit by scorching temperatures. Globally, last week saw the highest temperature ever recorded, according to data from two climate-tracking agencies spanning several decades.
High temperatures and floods
India usually experiences heat waves during the months of May and June, but in recent years they have come earlier and have been longer.
India was hit by a heat wave last April that sent temperatures in New Delhi, the country’s capital, to exceed 40°C (104°F) for seven consecutive days. In some states, the heat forced schools to close, damaged crops and put a strain on power supplies, as authorities warned residents to stay home and stay hydrated.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), India is one of the countries most affected by the climate crisis, which could affect 1.4 billion people across the country.
And experts say the cascading effects will be devastating.
According to a study published in April by the University of Cambridge, heat waves in India are placing an “unprecedented burden” on the country’s agriculture, economy and public health systems, paralyzing efforts to meet their targets. development goals.
According to Boiteau, only a few regions in southern India have suitable conditions for growing tomatoes during the summer months, so any “weather-related issues” in those areas can have nationwide repercussions on tomato supply. fresh.
This summer, the country has been rocked by both unprecedented amounts of rain and scorching heat waves, highlighting that the world’s most populous nation is one of the most vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis.
Sriram Gadve, president of the All India Vegetable Growers Association, says the constant heat waves from April to June this year prevented tomato plants from flowering during that period, affecting crop yields.
“It affected their growth, and that’s why this year’s tomato production was reduced by 70%,” he explained.
Of the tomatoes that were harvested, more than 90% were infected by seed-borne viruses, Gadve told , further exacerbating supply shortages.
Devinder Sharma, an India-based agricultural policy expert, told that the current shortages are also partly due to farmers throwing away their tomatoes because no one is buying them. Although this happens to some extent every year, Sharma said, “this time it was much bigger.”
Gadve said tomato prices should stabilize soon as the next crop should be picked and ready for sale in a few weeks.