Blight blow for potato target

A fungal disease — late blight– has badly affected potato crop in different areas of the country raising fears that the government-fixed target of producing 80 lakh tonnes of potato this season might not be achieved.

Field reports received from more than 10 districts quoted farmers as saying the disease has damaged their potato crop causing them massive losses.

The Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) however is yet to make an assessment of the damage.

Agriculturists blamed outbreak of late blight on dense fog and cloudy weather on and off in January and sowing of low quality seeds in some areas.

“There may be fungi in potato seeds or soil but they attack plants when there is thick fog and cloudy weather,” said an agriculturist at the DAE.

The districts where late blight attacked potato crop include Munshiganj, Bogra, Rangpur, Joypurhat, Kurigram, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Panchgarh, Lalmonirhat and Nilphamari.

The government targeted production of 80 lakh tonnes of potato from five lakh hectares of land this season but it was cultivated in 4.64 lakh hectares. Last season, 92 lakh tonnes were produced from 5.20 lakh hectares, a senior DAE official mentioned.

“Late blight caused by bad weather may affect total production of potato,” he said seeking anonymity.

Contacted, DAE Deputy Director in Munshiganj Hira Lal said the fungal disease attacked potato crop in 81 hectares out the 35,587 hectares brought under potato cultivation this time.

But farmers said the affected area is several times that claimed by the DAE.

Ramzan, a farmer at Charkewar in the district, said the disease attacked potato crop in more than 100 hectares only in that area.

Afzal Hossain, “I borrowed money to cultivate potato, but all my potato field is now affected. I am now helpless.”

In Ranggpur, farmer Sohel Khandoker of Mahiganj, said late blight damaged almost 30 percent of the plants on 30 acres of his land.

Another farmer, Sajedul Islam Liton of Pirganj, said around 40 percent of his eight acres of potato field was affected in January and about 30 percent this month.

In Kurigram, the disease damaged potato crop in some areas of Rajarhat and Sadar upazilas.

A team of agriculturists looked into the matter and found low quality seeds were a major reason behind it.

Reports from Nilphamari said the disease led to untimely harvest of potato and consequent huge supply of it in local markets. And potato price has fallen sharply. It now sells at only Tk7-8 a kg compared to Tk 18-20 just two weeks back.

Hari Pada Mazumder, DAE director (field services), said agriculture extension officials had promptly advised farmers to spray fungicides when the attack was at primary stage.

“Those who followed their advice saved their crop,” he claimed.

The field reports on late blight attack affecting potato crop were received from our correspondents Rafique Sarker in Rangpur, Abdul Wahed in Kurigram, EAM Asaduzzaman in Nilphamari, Farhana Mirza in Munshiganj and other sources.