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Amid Soaring Produce Prices, Indian City Launches “State Bank of Tomato”

The bank began as a tongue-in-cheek protest, but residents are taking it seriously

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Tomatoes are a key ingredient of many tasty Indian dishes, so a recent spike in tomato prices has sent the country into a bit of a frenzy. As Annie Gowen reports for the Washington Post, tomatoes’ soaring market value has sparked government protests, tomato thefts, and even the opening of the “State Bank of Tomato” where families can safely store the precious red fruits (and yes, tomatoes are a fruit).

The trouble began in June, when heavy rains flooded parts of the country and severely damaged crops. As Gowen reports, the shortage of tomatoes has caused prices to skyrocket to 100 rupees (approximately $1.60) per kilogram—about four times the typical selling price. The cost is prohibitive for many low-income families, and desperate times have prompted desperate measures. Huffington Post India, for instance, recently published an article entitled “7 Delicious Curries You Can Make Without Tomatoes.”

Residents of Lucknow, a large city in northern India, have taken a different approach. On Wednesday, local members of the Indian National Congress launched a “State Bank of Tomato,” where nervous cooks can store their tangy produce for safekeeping. As the Times of India reports, the bank provides locker facilities, offers loans to customers who cannot afford current tomato prices, and promises “a return of five times on the initial tomato deposit.”

The bank began as a tongue-in-cheek protest over the government’s handling of the agrarian crisis, but local residents are taking the initiative seriously. A Times of India video shows people lining up outside the bank, clutching baskets of tomatoes. Srikrishna Verma, a 103-year-old customer of the new bank, told the publication: "I have deposited 0.5 kilograms tomatoes, I will get one kilogram after six months.”

People in India have good reason to be worried about their tomato stashes. In July, thieves attacked and looted a truck carrying 2600 kilograms (5,700 pounds) of tomatoes in Mubmbai, which in turn prompted the city of Indore to station armed guards around one of its markets.

Tomato prices are expected to stabilize around mid-August, but India’s produce crisis may not be over yet. The cost of onions has been shooting upwards, which could mean that a State Bank of Onion will soon be in demand.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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