Bumper potato crop leaves Gujarat farmers poor

March 22nd, 2008 - 12:04 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Narendra Modi
By V.N. Balakrishna
Palanpur (Gujarat), March 22 (IANS) Potato farmers in the Deesa region are at their wits’ end trying to tackle a problem of plenty. A bumper harvest has left them worried as cold storages are packed to capacity and now the crop is lying in the open. “In my field, heaps of potatoes are lying in the open for want of storage space. In fact, when we want to sell, we are not even assured of getting transportation charges,” laments Kapurji Ajaji, a potato farmer from Laxmipura near Deesa.

The potato growing farmers of Deesa, a small township in Banaskantha district, are worried, as record potato cultivation this year has no takers for their produce. Deesa is 28 km from Palanpur, the district headquarters.

When the farmers approach any of the 68 cold storages located in Deesa to keep their produce safe until buyers come along, the reply is “there is no place to store as the cold storages are full”.

“We are even ready to sell a bag of potatoes weighing about 50 kg at Rs.40,” said Kapurji Ajaji.

Last year the farmers had managed to get a minimum price of Rs.2.50 per kg compared to the depressive 80 paise per kg this time. The shock is felt more by marginal farmers than comparatively well-to-do ones.

Maganbhai Patel, general secretary, Kisan Sangh, told IANS: “The same situation prevails elsewhere in the state. It is a crisis of plenty.”

K.D. Kag, district agricultural officer of Banaskantha district of north Gujarat, said: “The record production this year can be attributed to good monsoon coupled with favourable winter, better seed varieties and pesticides.

“Last year it was 28,000 kg to a hectare while it has now gone up to 34,000 kg a hectare. Moreover, the area of cultivation has also increased from 21,915 hectares to 33,433 hectare this year,” he said.

S.B.S. Tikka, director of research, Sardar Krushi Nagar-Dantiwada Agri University in Banaskantha, said the prolonged winter was very conducive for the crop and coupled with better seed varieties and utilisation of sprinkler and drip irrigation methods the output shot up by 30 percent, resulting in a glut.

Deesa accounts for the largest output of potato. Production has also gone up considerably this year in Kheda, Mehsana and Sabarkantha districts.

The cold storages situated on the outskirts of Deesa, some 28 km from here, are packed to capacity while hundreds of trucks and tractors loaded with potato bags wait outside.

“In the open market, the prices have fallen to a record level,” said Jat Mulaji Rajaji, a farmer from nearby Thwarpura village. “We are not getting even a rupee for a kg of potato,” he added.

Panchabhai Rabari from Dama village said he has been waiting for the past three days with a truck loaded with potato outside a cold storage.

“I have to wait for storage space. If I decide to go back to my village, the transportation cost would work out to Rs.1 for one kg of potato which I cannot afford,” he said.

Said another farmer, Jayantibhai Thakore: “I hope my luck will change for the better and I get the required storage space.”

Fulchand Devchandji Mali, who owns the Tirupati cold storage, said: “We are already brimming to capacity with 185,000 bags.”

Said Chamanabai Raghunathji Mistri, the owner of Rameshwar cold storage in Deesa: “We have reached 95 percent of our capacity and we have no more room.”

“I have never seen such a crisis. Actually, my whole produce would be lost this year,” said another farmer Jayantbhai Takhore.

A worried Chief Minister Narendra Modi formed a three-member cabinet committee Wednesday after the opposition grilled the government in the state assembly about the potato glut.

The government decided to buy potatoes at Rs.4 per kg from farmers up to quantities that can be stored in its cold storage facilities.

The panel also took note of the onion glut in Saurashtra that has compounded the worries of the Modi government.

Maganbhai Patel said that if consumers buy their one-month stock of potatoes in advance, then the farmers could be spared from their ordeal.

He appealed to cattle-breeders to use potatoes as feed for the cattle and help relieve the misery of the farmers.

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