National Vegetable Boycott Looms as Onion and Tomato Prices Rise Higher


Do you remember the great fruit price outrage this Ramzan? An exercise that forced fruit sellers in various Pakistani cities to bring down their prices significantly?

Only this time, a great shortage of vegetables (particular of tomatoes and onions) has hit the country. And true to form, prices of those essential vegetable items have doubled in many cities.

To make matters worse, no one in the top echelons of the government or the traders associations seems to have the solution to it.

What’s going on?

Depending on who you ask, the reasons for the vegetable shortage are different.

The government says that the prices have doubled due to the disruption of tomato and onion supply from India.

The vegetable traders say that the government’s incompetence, especially with as many as two different ministries, is to blame for the price hike of onions and vegetables. They have pointed their fingers at the Commerce Ministry, who in their infinite ‘wisdom’ decided to export vegetables without even taking notice of the fact that onion production was down 30-40% this year. They also said that that tomato season in Kabul and Quetta has ended as well and this too was not taken into account by the government.

This is all the more bizzare, given that Pakistan has historically relied more on its domestic production of tomatoes and onions to meet the needs of its ever-growing population. That is why the sudden and abrupt shortage of those two vegetables has caught many observers (and not to mention consumers) off guard.

It seems to be a sheer case of incompetence any way you look at it.

A Blame Game Continues

Many Pakistani households rely on vegetables as part of their staple diets. Tomatoes and onions are a vital component of many a Pakistani diet, be it in rural or urban areas. Given this scenario, the current crisis has essentially caused undue pressure for all manner of household budgets.

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1 kg of tomatoes now cost nearly Rs. 250, more than doubling in price in the last one week when you could get the same for Rs 80-100.

But what’s astounding is that this time around, people have not come together as they did during Ramzan when fruit sellers increased their prices. Though this is expected to change in the days ahead as the vegetable shortage becomes much more prevalent in many cities.

After all, there’s no word on when the current crisis is going to be solved. The government has said that it is going to hold talks with Indian traders to address the issue of tomato shortage but that’s just about it.

Traders say that the government was sleeping as it transported more trucks to export vegetable stocks to Kabul. Incredibly, the number of trucks that imported vegetables from Kabul were a fraction of those that were sent for exports.

33 Trucks are needed daily to meet the needs of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. But instead, only 3-4 trucks arrive from Kabul with vegetables.

The Government has to Answer for Its Incompetence

It seems that there are no checks and balances on part of the Commerce Ministry and the Ministry in charge of Food & Security. Working at cross-purposes to each other seems to be the order of the day.

Perhaps if the Federal government devoted more time to matters at home than to put all its time and resources defending a disqualified ex-PM, such a situation would not have come to pass in the first place.

This isn’t the first time the country has faced a shortage of essential commodities during the present government. A few years back, current Prime Minister Shahid Khakan Abbasi, who was the Petroleum Minister during January 2015, admitted that he was responsible for petrol shortage in the country.

Even with inflation at record lows at the moment, there’s not much the present government can do to justify its conduct with respect to the current vegetable shortage. We hope that this situation is resolved soon before it snowballs into a much bigger crisis in the days ahead.

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