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Lucknow, where potato farmers face problem of plenty

Potato farmers in Uttar Pradesh have a twin crisis on their hands — they brought in a record production of the crop but that has led to a slump in rates.

What happened?

On January 6, several quintals of potatoes were found strewn outside the Uttar Pradesh Assembly as well as near the Chief Minister’s residence, in what appeared to be a mark of protest by distressed farmers. The BJP government dismissed the incident as a politically motivated conspiracy and filed an FIR against unknown persons. It also suspended five policemen for negligence. A few days later, the police arrested two persons linked to the Samajwadi Party from Kannauj on charges of conspiracy. However, the entire fiasco brought the much-needed focus on the dilemma faced by potato farmers.

Why have prices fallen?

Uttar Pradesh is the largest producer of potatoes in the country and in the 2016-17 season, it broke the previous records, growing 155 lakh metric tonnes. A record 120 lakh tonnes was also stored in the 1,708 cold storages in the State. But rather than bringing cheer, the bumper crop led to a fall in prices. The newly elected Yogi Adityanath government stepped in to launch a market intervention scheme in April, under which one lakh tonnes of potatoes would be purchased from growers at the minimum support price of ₹487 a quintal. However, farmers are not satisfied.

What are the problems?

The grievances of farmers revolve around high input costs and low and unpredictable rates.

First, farmers say the minimum support rate set by the government is too low; the cost of growing a quintal of potato, including expenditure on transport and cold storage rent, comes up to ₹800-900. They are demanding that the minimum support price be increased to ₹1,000. Second, farmers claim the government did not actively purchase their produce as promised. Even in cases where the State purchased the potatoes, the farmers complained that the purpose was counter-productive due to the grading system, under which only the best quality was selected by government agencies. The bulk of average-poor quality potatoes was left with the farmers, who had the option of selling it in the market and dumping the rest in cold storages. Horticulture Department Director S.K. Joshi, however, says the State purchased 12,937 tonnes from farmers during April-May, causing the market price to increase by ₹100 a quintal.

Where to store the excess?

The new produce from 2017 is already in the market even as cold storages are still flush with last year’s yield. Already bearing the loss of the input costs, farmers are faced with the dilemma of letting their produce rot in the storages or attempt to sell the old produce at throwaway prices in markets, while competing with the new potato. Many farmers chose to let their produce rot in the cold storages or threw them in their fields for cattle to eat, as the costs of transporting them to the market to sell at low prices was unfeasible. As farmers are unable to repay the cold storage rents, they too face losses as they have to incur operational costs.

Authorities, however, say the potatoes being dumped by farmers are the rotting old stock, which would have been cleared from the cold storages sooner or later.

What happens next?

The State has sent a proposal to the Centre for purchasing 2 lakh tonnes from farmers under the market intervention scheme for the new season. Once the Centre approves the rates proposed by the State, the Horticulture Department will start buying potatoes from farmers in districts where rates are lower than the minimum support price. Last year, purchasing was done in 41 districts. Potatoes for the new season are still being dug out and the situation will be clear by February-end.


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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 12:05:49 AM |

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