With the Sabarimala pilgrimage season round the corner, the vegetable markets in the city are gearing up for another round of increase in prices. Consumers, already struggling to manage the family budget, are helpless in the face of market forces that dictate the prices.

From July to October, prices of most vegetables have gone up by 13-50 per cent. Traders say the price fluctuation was caused by the seasonal variation in domestic production. They, however, anticipate a further increase during the Sabarimala season from November when many switch over to a vegetarian diet.

The current rise in prices is expected to continue throughout the month, K. Premnath, Managing Director, Horticorp, says. The vegetables which have registered the highest increase in prices are raw mango (114 per cent, Rs.45), beans (50 per cent, Rs.45), lady's finger (29 per cent, Rs.22), bitter gourd (19 per cent, Rs.50), pumpkin (23 per cent, Rs.17), snake gourd (11per cent, Rs.20), carrot (12 per cent, Rs.37), cucumber (38 per cent, Rs.18), tomato (30 per cent, Rs.26) and drumstick (28 per cent, Rs.25).

A study conducted by Horticorp revealed that the retail price of most vegetables did not vary much in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

An average household in the city spends Rs.200 to Rs.300 a week on vegetables. Consumers who feel the pinch are worried about having to spend more. Girija, an employee with a TV channel, says it is becoming increasingly difficult to manage the family budget. Vegetables are an indispensable item on any family's shopping list, she adds.

Some customers like Sasidharan depend on innovative ways to cope with the high prices. He shops from different vendors and buys vegetables in small quantities. This works out cheaper and ensures better quality, he maintains.

Asokan, who has been running a shop at Chalai for the past 25 years, says retail traders often found the going difficult when prices are going up. “Customers tend to cut down on purchases and this leads to a loss for us as the vegetables start rotting,” he says.

Mr. Premnath says the time has come for Kerala to step up domestic production of vegetables. One step to manage the crisis is making terrace farming and kitchen gardens popular, he adds.