Post-harvest technologies such as use of cold stores, delay of ripening, spray drying can go a long way in preserving tomatoes, particularly when either the prices shoot up or hit rock bottom.
"Post-harvest technology is as important as good farming practices. Farmers must be educated as to when and how to pick and store the harvest," says Dr William Selvamurthy, Chief Controller-R&D, DRDO (Life Sciences), Delhi, who has done extensive research in agro-forestry.
For example, making tomato pulp on site near farms in small cottage scale industry to provide tomato paste to the food processing industry can be a step in the right direction, according to him.
"Though India accounts for less than one per cent of the world tomato trade, our tomato processing industry prides itself on being the largest in South-East Asia," says Dr Selvamurthy.
Now, our production level of processed tomato has increased considerably. He says the output of the Indian industry is more than twice that of Japan, and considerably greater than Thailand and Taiwan. The country has been exporting processed tomato in the form of tomato paste and ketchup to various countries and the domestic market is also expanding.
According to him, tomato paste is another item in which the country possesses export competitiveness. "Going by the information available, the US, Saudi Arabia and Japan are some of the major markets for tomato paste and chutney. And, other forms of preserved tomatoes are exported in small quantities to Kuwait and Sri Lanka," he says.
According to Dr Selvamurthy, food processing spells the need for specific end-uses. Depending on the final usage, tomatoes have to be harvested at specific stages of maturity. For example, green stage (when tomato is fully developed but green) is suitable for transport to distant markets; pink stage (when the tomato is partially red or pink but not fully ripe) is best suited for local markets; ripe stage (the tomato mostly is red and begins to soften) is better used immediately and full ripe stage (fully red and soft) is most suited for processing purposes.
Using good and suitable packaging material is also equally important to preserve harvested tomatoes for a reasonable time. "Its time we took the responsibility to work in solving our national tomato crises. It may seem like an impossible dream, but if today milk in our country is available at a consistent price and in sachets, the time is not far for the same to happen to all food products," says Dr Selvamurthy.