UP: Potato prices crash; desperate farmers queue up for days to avail of cold storage units
The anticipation of the harvest festival of Holi has failed to bring cheer to potato farmers in Uttar Pradesh. Low prices, lack of cold storage facilities, and rising temperatures have left them in the lurch.
Virendra Singh 7 March 2023 1:53 PM GMT
Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh
A day before Holi, on March 6 morning, Arvind Kumar Verma arrived at the Bahubali cold storage facility. The 40-year-old potato farmer from Sitapur district’s Sultanpur block had travelled 45 kilometres to reach the facility and stock up his potato harvest. But, he was not allowed to unload his harvest.
“The officials have issued tokens for 11 gunny bags while I have harvested potatoes to the tune of 1,500 gunny bags. Tomorrow is Holi and I might have to spend the night here at the cold storage to guard my harvest,” Verma told Gaon Connection.
Similarly, when Rohit Kumar Verma, a farmer from Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh, which is India’s top potato producing state, harvested his potato crop last week he had hoped for some profit that would spread cheer in time for Holi.
However, his hopes for a happy Holi were short-lived.
“I planted potatoes on an acre of land and harvested enough potatoes to fill a thousand gunny bags [each gunny bag has 50 kilograms of potatoes]. But, the market prices are too low to sell now and I desperately need the services of a cold storage facility. However, I have not been allowed to keep my produce at the local storage,” Verma from Akamba village, told Gaon Connection. He was extremely worried about the unprecedented heat so early in March that could spoil his potatoes.
Hundreds of thousand potato farmers in Uttar Pradesh fear facing heavy losses this year. Uttar Pradesh is India’s highest potato producing state, followed by West Bengal and Bihar. According to Verma, last year the wholesale market price ranged between Rs 600 and Rs 1,000 a quintal (100 kgs). This season it has not gone above Rs 300 a quintal, which means Rs 3 per kg only that does not even cover the production cost of potato crop.
“These low prices have led to a crisis. No farmer wants to sell his produce and we are all flocking to the cold storages in the hope of keeping some of our produce there. But, this year, the storages have announced that they will take 15 per cent less potato than last year,” he added.
The farmers in Sitapur and Farrukhabad districts, which are two key potato producing areas in the state, are also distressed.
Since the potato prices were good in the previous three yeThe anticipation of the harvest festival of Holi has failed to bring cheer to potato farmers in Uttar Pradesh. Low prices, lack of cold storage facilities, and rising temperatures have left them in the lurch.ars, many farmers also increased their production in the hope of making more money.
“I usually cultivate potatoes on 12 acres of land, but this year I grew them on 15 acres. Millions of other farmers did the same. Now, the cold storages are running out of space, and there is no response from the authorities,” Harinam Maurya, a farmer from Rampur Mathura block in Sitapur, told Gaon Connection.
“I have been frequenting the cold storages for the past two weeks, in vain. The potatoes have begun rotting in this hot weather,” Annu Singh, a farmer from Farrukhabad Singh told Gaon Connection.
Shortage of cold storage a perennial issue
A huge proportion of food grown by the Indian farmers fails to reach the consumers due to post-harvest losses which are primarily due to insufficient cold storage facilities.
As per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there is an annual loss of 40 per cent of fresh fruits and vegetables worth USD 8.3 billion in India.
The central government's Food Corporation of India pegs these losses at 15 per cent. While the figures for the losses vary, they are still alarming enough to demand urgent action.
According to the Cool Coalition, every year, farmers in India incur nearly USD 12,520 million in post-harvest losses due to inadequate storage facilities and a lack of energy infrastructure. This is worrisome as almost 82 per cent of farmers in the country are small and marginal farmers with land holding of less than two hectares.
Sufficient storage capacity, claims official
However, Mahesh Kumar Srivastava the district horticulture officer in Barabanki, allayed fears about cold storages running out of space.
“Farmers cultivate potatoes on about 19,500 hectares of land in Barabanki and annual production is about 600,000 metric tonnes. There are 45 cold storages in operation in the district which have a storage capacity of about 485,000 metric tonnes,” Mahesh Kumar Srivastava told Gaon Connection. “Also, five additional cold storages are constructed this year and they will be operational this week itself. Farmers should not get hasty. The administration is constantly working to store the surplus potatoes,” he added.
“The storage has been completed for 50 per cent of our capacity. We are taking 15 per cent less potatoes than last year only for the farmers who have been keeping their produce at the cold storage. This is because many farmers have produced potatoes for the first time this year and we need to give an equal opportunity to them as well,” the the district horticulture officer said.
Stray cattle menace
“The impact of stray cattle menace cannot be ruled out at all. They routinely destroy crops. The fear amongst farmers is so rampant that they are not keen to sow standing crops,” Anil Kumar Verma, the district president of Bharatiya Kisan Union in Ayodhya district, told Gaon Connection.
Potato, being a subterranean crop, is more immune to stray cattle, so this led to an overproduction of potato leading to a crash in prices,” the farmer leader said.
In India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh, hundreds of thousands of farmers are struggling as their crops are routinely destroyed by stray cattle. A quick look at the data compiled under the 20th Livestock Census-2019 All India Report reveals the growing problem in the state.
Whereas stray cattle in the country have reduced by 3.2 per cent from 2012 to 2019, it has registered a whopping 17.34 per cent increase in Uttar Pradesh in the same time period. According to the livestock census data for 2019, there were more than 1.18 million stray cattle in the state.