Sunday, June 16, 2024

Potato growers, traders face huge losses

Despite investing huge money and putting in hard labour, thousands of potato farmers and traders across the country have to bear huge financial losses as there is a shortage of storage facilities. Though they have been facing the problem for the past few years, the government has apparently taken no step to resolve the crisis.
About 10 lakh tonnes of potato, worth about Tk. 800 crore at the current storage gate price of Tk. 700 per sack (1 sack = 2 mounds), will turn rotten by December as the produce has already started germinating in the storages. According to official estimates, potato production in the last fiscal stood at 83 lakh tonnes, which exceeded the national demand by 20 lakh tones. Even after selling potato at much lower prices compared to the previous years, leading to net losses to potato farmers as well as traders, about 30 per cent of the last season’s produce still remain unsold, and the farmers have already started preparing the land to grow potato this season with a lot of pessimism. Talking to farmers, traders, cold storage owners and government officials, The Independent found out that there will be no significant decrease in the acreage of potato cultivation, although those concerned are sure of further losses mostly owing to excessive production, as well as the carry over from the last season.
Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) officials estimate the acreage under potato cultivation for the fiscal 2011-2012 at 4.7 lakh hectares, same as the previous fiscal.
Md. Jasim Uddin, chairman of the Bangladesh Cold Storage Association, says about 10-15 lakh tonnes, out of abut 25 lakh tonnes of potato that still remain in the storages, are going to rot as they have already started germinating.
Traders who bought large quantities of potato from last season’s harvest will count great losses if the stocks in storages cannot be sold before December, as early-sown potato from the Rangpur region will start appearing in the market during January.
“We are lobbying with the ministry of food to convince them to buy potato that could be distributed to the poor through social safety-net programmes of the government”, he added.
Md. Kurban Ali, in-charge of the Srinagar Cold Storage in Munshiganj, told The Independent that out of 80 thousand sacks of potato stored during the last harvest, about 20 thousand still remain. The percentage of discharge is even lower in other cold storages of the locality, he adds.
Although the price of potato has recently increased to Tk. 600 and 800 per sack for wet and dry categories, respectively, most of the small farmers have sold out their produce between March and April, when the rate was below Tk 500, says Md. Amir Hossain Bepari, a contract potato farmer and a trader of Atpara village in Shirajdikhan upazila. “The farmers were not interested in storing as the storage charge went up to Tk. 275 per sack in March, whereas the charges were Tk. 260 and Tk. 250 during the last two years”, he says.
“There is no doubt that the farmers endured losses with the harvest, but the traders like us would be experiencing higher losses compared to theirs as we bought a large amount of potato when the price was low, but could not manage to sell it out at a profitable rate even after sustaining increased rent of the storages, as well as increased transport cost due to fuel price hike”, he noted. Md. Abdul Aziz, a farmer at Atapara village, says: “I cultivated potato on a one Kani (1 Kani = 140 decimals) plot. I had to spend a lot for the cultivation – about Tk. 45 thousand for chemical fertilisers, Tk. 5,000 for pesticides, Tk. 3,000 for day-labourers and Tk. 5,000 for ploughing. But I have earned only about Tk. 1.2 lakh from the sale of 400 mounds of potato in a price range between Tk. 250 and 350.”
“You also need to add up Tk. 80 thousand I paid to the land owner as rent for three months. So  you will find that I spent about Tk. 1.2 lakh and only managed to realise Tk. 1.2 lakh – there was no profit. There are other farmers who sustained net losses as they sold their produce at lower prices”, he adds. Interestingly, Abdul Aziz is making preparations for cultivating potato on one Kani land that he rented again this season despite the loss he sustained last season.
“There is no other alternative to potato cultivation here, we are not interested in cultivating pulses as the profit margin has also been very low for the pulse crops over the past decade.
The good news among all the sordid happenings all around is that the land rent has gone down this season. I rented one kani land for potato cultivation at Tk. 40 thousand, half of the rate in the preceding season”, he says.
Md. Rashedul Hasan, an agricultural extension officer in Shirajdikhan upazila, says: “This year, farmers have started preparing about 8,000 hectares for potato cultivation, whereas the acreage last season was 9,030 hectares.”
The slight decrease is because of the loss incurred in the previous season, but it is still a satisfactory figure as according to recommendations of the Soil Research and Development Institute (SRDI), 8,000 hectares are suitable for cultivation of potato or pulses during the dry season, he adds.
Despite losses, real farmers prefer cultivating potato as excessive fertilisers used during potato cultivation give them the advantage of having to use less fertiliser for the next crop, he explains. However, he points out, about 80 per cent of the potato farmers in the region are contract growers cum traders who are accustomed to taking risks.
According to records in the agriculture department in Shirajdikhan upazila, about 4.2 lakh tonnes out of the 18 lakh tonnes of potato stored in 10 cold storages in the upazila are yet to be sold.
According to the Bangladesh Cold Storage Association (BSA), more than three million tonnes of potato still remain in the 332 cold storages of the country. On the other hand, records of the Department of Agriculture Marketing (DAM) shows that there are 350 privately owned cold storages with the capacity of storing 21.96 lakh tonnes of potato at a time.

-With The Independent input

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