Latehar (Jharkhand): Time was when truck drivers from the north, given the abundant production of tomatoes in Jharkhand, would purchase the red fruit at rock-bottom prices and sell them for a huge profit back home.
Farmers in disgust would throw tomatoes on roads, as they couldn't manage getting even the price of cultivation.
However, thanks to truck drivers from neighbouring states, all that has changed in the last four-five years. Truck drivers sensing an opportunity, have entered the trade, thereby helping ensure farmers turn in a tidy profit.
And all this, in the Maoist backyard of Latehar.
"Five to six years ago, we were considering tomato-growing farming as doom for us. But the perception has now changed. The credit for this miracle goes to the truck drivers of the neighbouring states," Mohammad Danish, a resident of Balumath in Latehar district, told IANS.
Kisun Kumar, another farmer echoes similar sentiments. He said: "Four years ago, truck drivers from north India, instead of going back with empty trucks, would purchase tomatoes from us very low cost. They got good prices in their home states. They started doing brisk business in the sale and purchase of tomatoes."
"There was a time when we preferred to throw tomatoes on the road instead of taking them back to our homes. We were not able get even basic costs. Now we sell our tomatoes at a reasonable cost," Arjun Oraon, another farmer said.
The farmers would previously sell their tomatoes at 50 paise per kg. Now, they get up to Rs 8 to Rs 12 per kg. Also, the packaging of the tomatoes is done by the local youth and has helped in creating jobs for them.
The labourers involved in packaging are paid Rs 10 per crate for packaging and loading the tomatoes. One labourer, on an average, loads 100 crates of tomatoes in a truck. In this way, a labourer earns up to Rs 1,000 per day. It is estimated that each labourer earns between Rs 1.50 lakh and Rs 2. 50 lakh in every tomato season.
"Now, 40 trucks are dedicated for transporting tomatoes to other states and bordering areas of Bangladesh and Nepal. Now, the situation is such that we are not able to meet the demand," said Mohammad Shamsher, a truck driver who transports tomatoes to areas bordering Bangladesh.
The lives of local farmers have changed after the tomato business picked up. They now have the money to buy products that aid and enrich their lives.