Tomato farmers in India are harvesting rich returns after a scarcity caused by high temperatures and unseasonal rains raised prices to about 10 times the normal rate, but the sudden wealth has also made farmers a target for thieves.
In the latest incident, Loka Raj was returning home after selling his tomatoes at a market in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh state on Wednesday night when he was attacked by five men and robbed of 450,000 rupees ($5,400).
Residents of the area took him to a government-run hospital where he is receiving treatment for his injuries, media reports said.
Andhra Pradesh is one of the main tomato-growing areas in India, along with the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
Tomatoes are widely used in Indian cuisine, but damage to the crops from heat waves in May and June, and rains from Cyclone Biparjoy in mid-June, affected supplies and caused prices to soar from an average of about 20 rupees a kilogram to 200 rupees.
Earlier in May, when the country was experiencing a surplus, growers in Maharashtra dumped their harvest in protest at the low wholesale rate of just two or three rupees a kilo being offered by the government, which also affected stocks.
In mid-July, farmer Narem Rajasekhar Reddy, 62, died after being attacked in the Annamayya district of Andhra Pradesh and robbed of three million rupees he had earned from selling his tomatoes at an agricultural market.
The same month, a farmer in neighbouring Karnataka complained that tomatoes worth 250,000 rupees were stolen from her fields in Hassan district.
In Tamil Nadu, police arrested a couple for hijacking a lorry loaded with 2.5 tonnes of tomatoes in Bengaluru city in Karnataka, while in Maharashtra a farmer reported that 20 crates of tomatoes worth 40,000 rupees ($485) were stolen from his pick-up truck parked outside his home.
While the soaring tomato prices have upset consumers, they have turned many farmers into millionaires.
Chandramouli, a farmer in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district, reported making a profit of 30 million rupees from selling 40,000 boxes of tomatoes, each holding 15kg, over a 45-day period. In Maharashtra, farmer Ishwar Gaykar from Pachghar village in Pune district sold 18,000 crates of tomatoes, each weighing 20kg, for 30 million rupees.