Ishwar Gayakar, a former struggling farmer, has emerged as a prominent figure in India's tomato market. This success story follows the footsteps of Slumdog Millionaire, a renowned film from the same nation.
Just two months ago, Gayakar, 33, faced disappointment as tomato prices plummeted to a mere 5 pence per kilogram on his 12-acre farm in Pune, Maharashtra. Faced with this grim reality, he chose to let the tomatoes rot rather than harvest them.
However, a recent turn of events has changed his fortunes. Between June and July, Gayakar managed to sell an impressive 17,000 crates of tomatoes, earning a staggering 30 million rupees (£283,000). The prices skyrocketed by up to 700 percent due to an unusual surge in temperature and a subsequent pest infestation, severely limiting the tomato supply.
The soaring prices have created a crisis for many Indians, as tomatoes have become unaffordable. With tomatoes being a key ingredient in numerous Indian dishes, cooks have been compelled to either find alternatives like red capsicum or go without this essential component.
This tomato price boom has even driven Indians residing near the Nepal border to cross over and purchase tomatoes at a lower cost. In one peculiar incident, a woman from Madhya Pradesh reported her husband to the police when she discovered he had used two tomatoes instead of one in a dish, further highlighting the scarcity and value of the fruit.
Unfortunately, the surge in prices has also led to an increase in tomato thefts from farmers and food traders.
Reflecting on his success, Gayakar humbly stated, "This is not an overnight accomplishment. I have been cultivating tomatoes for the past six years, enduring significant losses along the way. However, I never lost hope."
At the beginning of this year, tomato prices remained consistently low at 5 pence per kilo until April, when the weather conditions shifted. Faced with the pest invasion and extremely low prices, many farmers decided to abandon their crops. However, around mid-June, prices experienced an unexpected surge.
"I initially anticipated receiving around 30 rupees per kilo in June, but it turned out to be a jackpot for me," Gayakar expressed with enthusiasm.
Tomatoes, introduced to India by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century, typically witness a price increase during the monsoon season, along with other fruits and vegetables.
However, few Indians can recall a time when tomatoes cost 250 rupees (£2.50) or more per kilo.
As a result of these inflated prices, even McDonald's, known for its standardised rules, has removed tomato slices from its burgers.