Monday, March 24, 2008

Growers to face Tk 300 crore loss from potato damage

Sacks of potato are piled up on the premises of Rahman Cold Storage at Nawhata Madhusudhanpur in Paba upazila while the authorities have hung a notice announcing closure of receiving potato. Photo: STAR
About 3.20 lakh tonnes of potatoes worth around Tk 300 crore is facing damage as growers in 16 districts of Rajshahi division are compelled to preserve the perishable winter crop in traditional way.

The situation has arisen as growers have failed to preserve it in cold storages due to lack of accommodation.

A prolonged winter this year helped yield around 58 lakh tonnes of potatoes from over 3.50 lakh hectares of land in northern districts and a total of 130 cold storages in the region could accommodate only 10 lakh tonnes.

Of the remaining 48 lakh tonnes, about two-thirds 32 lakh tonnes are expected to be sold in local markets and other parts of country while the remaining amount will have to be stored in growers' households, said agriculturists and businessmen.

Apart from space constraint, growers are being forced to adopt the indigenous methods of preserving to avoid losses due to the vegetable's low price in the present market.

The influence of middlemen, hoarders and seasonal businessmen in markets of abundant supply has pushed the price down. In Rajshahi, potato is now being sold at Tk 800 per sack (84-kg), which was Tk 980 even five days back. The price is still lower at Joypurhat, Tk 750 per sack.

The hoarders blocked most spaces of cold storages through advance bookings at as high rate as Tk 130 per sack whereas the regular booking rate is Tk 60 to 90, alleged growers.

Due to the advance bookings, many cold storage owners have already hung notices announcing stoppage of receiving potatoes even before filling up the capacity, sources said. As a result, growers are compelled either to sell produces at lower rates or take back home to store indigenously.

The Agriculture Extension Directorate (AED) is circulating leaflets suggesting farmers traditional potato storage on floors, machan (straw-made platform), and beneath cots.

AED officials, however, do not know have any clear idea about how much damage to potato can be done if the winter vegetable is stored in such a way.

"We do not have any idea about it [damage caused by using traditional methods] as no survey was made. Yet the possible damage is evident," M Abdul Matin, additional director of Rajshahi regional AED told The Daily Star. "We are suggesting traditional methods as there is no other way," he said.

This correspondent met Abdur Razzak, a grower of Bargachhi in front of Raj Cold Storage in Paba upazila. He produced 720 sacks of potatoes from 24 bighas of land spending about Tk 7 lakh. "Although it is not enough to recover the production cost, I sold 200 sacks to hoarders for Tk 900 at per. I am in a problem now with the rest".

Kalam got 810 sacks of potato from his nine acres of land. "I must preserve those anyhow. By selling it five months later, I can cultivate next crops."

Experience of Intaj Ali of Madhabpur is bitter. "I have already sustained loss. I don't know what is waiting for me next."

Amjad of Bagmara, Shahidul of Durgapur and Shahidul of Naogaon have similar stories.

Mizanur Rahman Sentu, a trained farmer, however, seemed satisfied. He produced 607 sacks of potatoes from 23.5 bighas of land in Durgapur, Amgachhi and Kathalbaria villages spending Tk 4.70 lakh and managed to store all the produce.

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