Cold storages selling potatoes at ₹2 a kilo

Middlemen and traders make a killing in Western Uttar Pradesh as potato growers are left in the lurch

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Hubbelal, a medium scale potato farmer from Saras (Mathura) has 10 acres of land. A year before demonetisation he had made a decent profit but this year his fortune took a hit as prices crashed and the government stubbornly refused to announce the Minimum Support Price (MSP) at which the Government purchases the crop and which the Government declares at the start of the sowing season.

He claims to have invested ₹10 lakhs this year on growing potatoes but rues that he would not be able to recover the amount. He is not alone. Several thousand potato growers in Western Uttar Pradesh (Mathura, Aligarh, Agra, Mainpuri, Firozabad, Etawah, Kanpur and Farrukhabad among others) are facing a testing time.

Demonetisation turned out to be a double whammy for the farmers. While the cash-based economy took a hit and affected sowing and inputs, it also reduced demand and led to the price crash. While the cost of growing every kilogram of potato was put at `9-10, farmers could sell them only at ₹3-4 per kg. Even the best quality potato sold at the mandi at ₹150 for a bag of 50 kilos. “I would rather give away my potatoes for free,” says a distraught Hubbelal.

The President of Kisan Shakti Sangh Pushpendra Singh says, “Demonetisation affected the sales of tractors, farm equipment and farm inputs by as much as 50% and farmers having lost out on two successive crops are totally clueless.

Uttar Pradesh is the largest producer of potatoes in the country and accounts for almost 30% of the total annual production of 48 million tonnes.

November-December is generally the period for planting potato seeds. Usually harvested in February-March, potatoes are then put in cold storages and sold over the course of the year. But even after a year of Demonetisation, and though some cash has come back to the system, a lot of last year’s harvest are still in cold storages, adding to the farmers’ cost.

Many farmers, unable to pay for the storage, have abandoned their crops. Confirming the trend, a cold storage manager Neeraj Agarwal of Govardhan Cold Storage at Raya in Mathura said over the phone that 30% of the produce are still lying in his cold storage. “We must clear the stock and since farmers are not lifting it or paying for storage, we have no option but to sell the stock at rock-bottom prices,” he explained. Middlemen and traders were taking advantage by buying the stock at as low as ₹2 per kg, he confirmed.

“BJP promised in their 2014 manifesto that a BJP Government would ensure the MSP to be to be at least fifty percent above the cost of production. By that token, farmers say they should have received a MSP of of at least ₹1500 per quintal. But the Uttar Pradesh government declared an MSP of ₹487 per quintal but didn’t purchase potatoes even at the low MSP.

In April this year, the Yogi Adityanath government had declared its intent to buy one lakh mt of potatoes at ₹487 per quintal. The cabinet assured the farmers that potato procurement would begin immediately. But VM Singh, chief of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sanghathan, is on record saying that the UP Government is yet to fulfil the promise.

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