Potato boom made bane for Munshiganj farmers

Potato

Farmers pile up sacks of potato in front of a cold storage at Daniapara in Sirajganj although storage authorities said they do not have enough

Middlemen buy out spaces at cold storages, force them to sell potatoes at 25pc less price

Middlemen are cashing in on artificial shortage of cold storages by renting huge space, forcing the farmers in Munshiganj to sell potatoes at a loss even after bumper production.

The price of potatoes in the field level has decreased by more than 25 percent in one month, as the farmers have no way to preserve their production.

Against this backdrop, the middlemen are out to buy potato at a cheaper rate than the production cost, apparently forcing the farmers to stay off the potato field next season.

At the beginning of harvesting period in February, per kilogram of potato was sold at Tk 12.75, which now stands at TK 9.5, according to the district agriculture department.

Cold storage owners have already made announcements across the district saying they have no more space for potatoes.

“Unavailability of space in the cold storages has forced us to sell potatoes to the middlemen at a loss,” said Abdul Bepari, a farmer from Katakhali. He added that this situation discourages farmers to go for costly potato production as it is now nothing but counting loss.

He solely blamed it on the middlemen, who had booked space in the cold storages long before potato harvesting.

“This is their strategy so that farmers are forced to sell potatoes at a much lower price,” Bepari noted.

Like Bepari, Sirajul Islam, Mohammad Delwar and Monir Hossain also expressed their dissatisfaction over lack of potato preservation facilities.

Munshiganj alone produces about 34 percent of the country’s potato, according to the Agriculture Extension Department (AED) of the district.

Cyclone Sidr had badly damaged potatoes on 1,624 hectares of land, which was the early crop. But the farmers’ traditional eagerness particularly in this production has made a record high yield of 11 lakh tonnes in the current season.

The farmers allege every year most of the 74 cold storages of the district create “artificial” shortage in connivance with the middlemen.

Monir Hossain said, “Potato harvest this season is beyond our expectation. But we might incur huge loss due to the middlemen’s ill-motivated business and lack of preservation space.”

He said high prices of fertiliser and seed have already pushed production cost to over Tk 15.5 per kg against last year’s Tk 13 a kg. But the present market price has dipped to less than Tk 10 per kg.

“The reality is that we produce potato, but the profit goes to the middlemen and cold storage owners’ pockets,” he said.

“Farmers of Munshiganj are facing space shortage in the cold storages,” admitted Shamsuddin Ahmed, agriculture officer of Tongi Bari upazila.

Citing an example, he said in Tongi Bari 2.5 lakh tonnes of potato has been harvested so far. But only half the production could be stored in 26 cold storages, although the owners had earlier said they have the capacity to preserve over 2.5 lakh tonnes.

According to Munshiganj AED, the district’s 74 cold storages can preserve only 5 lakh tonnes against average yearly production of 10 lakh tonnes.

AED Deputy Director Jatindra Chandra Modak admitted the middlemen business saying, “It’s a common practice in the district.” AED is working to keep the growers’ interest, he added.

Uttam Shaha, director of Kohinur Cold Storage, said although potato production is increasing every year, the number of cold storages remains the same.

On advanced space reservation by the middlemen, he said, “We rent cold storage space on the basis of first come first serve.”

However, the farmers said it is impossible for them to rent storage space during cultivation period as they spend huge amount in production. By the time they complete harvest, they find that little space is left with the storages.

Talking to The Daily Star, a high official of the district AED said there is no government mechanism to maintain potato preservation in the cold storage, which creates the unusual panic every year.

“We sometimes advise the cold storage owners to keep growers’ interest. But if they do not follow that what can we do?”