Too many potatoes on Uttar Pradesh’s plate -
Too many potatoes on Uttar Pradesh’s plate
Posted 19 Jan 2018 11:34 AM

Uttar Pradesh, the largest potato producing state with about 35% of the country’s total output, has had a bumper crop in 2016-17 — over 155 lakh tonnes — with the result that potatoes are rotting along roadsides and outside cold storage units.

What threw the spotlight on the surplus — apparently more than the government can manage — was the dumping of potatoes in front of the Legislative Assembly earlier this month, and the response by the police who claimed the protest was political, not by farmers. Police arrested two persons and booked six others on charges of mischief by injury to public road, and alleged that two of those booked, Shivendra Singh and Jai Kumar Tiwari, were Samajwadi Party leaders and the rest their friends, barring the driver of the truck where the potatoes were brought. Most of those booked belonged to Kannauj. Police also suspended four constables and a sub-inspector for negligence in the high-security area.

While the police call it political and the Congress has taken up the issue, farmers and owners of cold storage units told The Indian Express the government has not been able to buy or store enough. As large amounts lay in cold storage waiting for the market to improve, the approaching new season by January-end meant that farmers no longer found it feasible to pay for cold storage. Thus, they said, they decided either to leave the crop in cold storage without paying the rent, or to dump it.

Also Read | Potato dumping near UP Assembly: Two held, two SP leaders among six booked, say Cops

The government claims it made a record purchase of about 13,000 quintals in April-May alone last year, and fixed the minimum support price for potato at Rs 487 per quintal in April. In other moves, the government made it mandatory to cook potatoes in midday meals for over 1 crore children of government schools. Farmers claim only 13% of the surplus was utilised after these moves.

Although the problem has been extreme this year, farmers say they have been struggling for the last few years with the price dropping from Rs 800-900 per quintal three years ago to Rs 600-800 in 2015-16. Besides, they say, prices actually fetched in the market were less than the rent for cold storage.

“Our family has farmed potato for ages but we have never faced such a crisis,” said Nanda Kishore, 51, of Farrukhabad, part of UP’s potato belt. “Buyers earlier came from Bihar and Chattisgarh, but as other states too have had bumper crops this time, there have been hardly any takers. As the largest producer, we seem to be the worst affected.”

Kishore, who owns 55 acres land, claims to have produced 750 quintals of which 300 quintals went waste. “The government had fixed the price but buyers had become choosy about size and quality as they had options. It was not worth keeping the crop in cold storage at about Rs 220-250 a packet (each packet is half a quintal) when we hardly got more than Rs 400 a quintal for most of our crop,” Kishore said.

Owners of cold storage units say they too suffered losses when they had to dispose of potatoes, paying for transport and labour. “I have a capacity of 1.35 lakh packets (each 50 kg) of which 20,000 packets were not picked by farmers, who also stopped paying rent and told us to do whatever we wanted with the crop,” said Mahesh Agarwal, who owns a storage unit in Aligarh. “It took me 15 days to clear 20,000 packets. I had to pay for the JCB to dig the ground as it is not allowed to dump potatoes in the open.”

Uttar Pradesh has 1,825 government as well as private cold storage houses, with a total capacity of 142.18 tonnes. As per data made available by the UP Horticulture Department, 120.29 lakh tonnes was kept in cold storage in 2017, the highest at any point to this date.

A spokesperson for the government said the produce in 2016-17 was 155.63 lakh metric tonnes, and gave a breakup of where all this usually goes — 75 lakh tonnes directly for food, 10 lakh tonnes for creation of food products, 20 lakh tonnes as seed, and the rest to other states and Nepal. The government said it has started a scheme to provide a subsidy of Rs 50 per quintal for transport to other places up to 300 km. Under the scheme, which started on July 18, 2017, about 13 lakh tonnes potato was sent out of the state until December 31.

The Opposition claims the government’s efforts have not been enough to account for the surplus. “We have gone to the ground and seen the problems of farmers,” said Congress Legislature Party leader Ajay Kumar “Lallu”, who had visited various mandis in western UP. “There was a farmer who had to stop the studies of his son, who was doing chartered accountancy. Many have postponed weddings,” he said. “Potato along with sugarcane is the sole source of earning for a large number of farmers in western UP. If the situation continues, western UP will soon turn into a Bundelkhand.”

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