Tomato Prices Rise Again As Crops Are Hit With Disease

The tomato saga continues as prices are hiked again, now reaching an all-time high of Rs. 250 per kilo in places like Uttarakhand and anywhere from Rs. 100-180 in other parts of the country. Consumers everywhere are learning how to cook around the shortage and even businesses are making compromises with McDonald’s India – North and East – announcing that they’ll be ‘temporarily’ dropping tomatoes from all their menu items.

The cause for this sudden shortage was initially attributed to pest attacks and spoiled crops in March and April. The sudden and heavy onset of the monsoons also contributed to this crop failure. More information has emerged about the specific diseases and farmers say their tomato crop was impacted by two strains of the Mosaic Virus. Namely the cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) in Maharashtra and the tomato mosaic virus (ToMV) in Karnataka and other South Indian states.

Both of these plant pathogens, despite their similar names and ability to cause similar damage to crops, belong to different viral families and have distinct modes of transmission. ToMV, belonging to the Virgaviridae family, is closely related to the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV) and primarily affects tomatoes, tobacco, peppers, and certain ornamental plants.

On the other hand, CMV has a broader range of hosts, including cucumber, melon, eggplant, tomato, carrot, lettuce, celery, various cucurbits (such as squash, pumpkin, zucchini, and some gourds), and certain ornamentals. The virus earned its name from its identification in cucumber back in 1934.

ToMV primarily spreads through infected seeds, saplings, and agricultural tools. Additionally, it can be transmitted through the hands of nursery workers who have not properly sanitized themselves before entering the fields. In a matter of days, a field can be completely taken over by the virus with just a few infected saplings.

In contrast, CMV is primarily transmitted by aphids, which are sap-sucking insects. Although there is a possibility of CMV transmission through human contact, the chances of this occurring are exceedingly low. Both diseases have a severe impact on crops like leaf and fruit distortion, consequently hampering production.

Controlling the spread of CMV and ToMV is a challenge but can be done, so while measures are being taken to rectify the damage done to this year's harvest, it’s likely we’ll see a lot of fluctuation ahead for the fate of tomatoes.