Amroha, Uttar Pradesh: In Uttar Pradesh's Amroha district, famous for its tomato exports, people could be seen gathering fresh and juicy red fruits strewn all over the streets by angry farmers. About 100 farmers in the district not only destroyed their tomato crop, but dumped tonnes of tomatoes on major roads leading to Amroha.
They shouted slogans against the government, but allowed passersby to pick and take away these tomatoes for free. They then went to the office of the district magistrate and gifted him two kilos of tomatoes.
The symbolic protest aimed at drawing the government's attention towards the falling prices of tomatoes at the local mandi (market), which they say isn't enough to cover the production and transport expenditure.
The district has emerged as a major producer and exporter of tomatoes, but the farmers are unable to reap any benefits.
The farmers want the government to intervene and clamp down on middlemen, who they say, take the produce out of the district and sell at a higher price. They also want some price regulation for their produce.
Farmer leaders like Harpal Singh, president of a splinter group of the widely known Bharatiya Kisan Union, explains that the average cost of production of a kilo of tomatoes, including seeds, fertiliser, labour, irrigation and the transportation cost from field to the market is about Rs 6 per kilo. But the mandi prices in Amroha, according to farmers, is Rs 58 per crate or 30 kilos which comes down to Rs 1.93 per kilo and translates into a loss of Rs 3-4 per kilo to farmers.
"The middlemen take over from the mandi. We can't sell our produce without them. They sell it at a profit of at least Rs 5 per kg and the market prices are about Rs 15 per kg right now. Everyone, except for the farmer, ends up making profits. This is totally unacceptable," says Mr Singh.
The farmers say a glut in the market and an end to tomato exports to Pakistan in the last few years have severely affected their incomes. The farmers are threatening to launch a bigger agitation if their demands aren't met.
Amroha District Magistrate Hemant Kumar has promised to help. "I have heard the farmers and will take up their issue with the authorities concerned," he said.
In January, potatoes were dumped on prominent roads across Lucknow, including outside the state assembly and the road that leads to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's residence. The incident had brought into focus the plight of potato farmers across UP - a desperate situation for small and marginal farmers who faced huge losses, caught between high input costs and low returns they got at local markets in a state that produces 35 per cent of potatoes in India.