Potato made pricey

2009-08-24__back01Sacks of potatoes await storage space in front of Shahadat Cold Store in Rangpur; picture inset shows a close-up shot of the edible root.
Traders keep 7-month’s stock in cold storage to get higher profit
Rafique Sarker, Rangpur and Farhana Mirza, Munshiganj
Despite having sufficient stocks, the price of potato increased by 15 percent to Tk 28 per kg from Tk 24 a month ago, as traders are reluctant to release potato from stocks to get more profits.

According to Bangladesh Cold Storage Association, a total of 14 lakh tonnes of potato remains stored in 293 cold storages across the country and the stock is enough to meet the monthly demand of two lakh tonnes.

The next potato season will start from November this year. Of the total potato stock, only 30 percent has been marketed so far. So there is no justifiable reason for price hike of potato in the market.

Talking to The Daily Star, potato growers and sellers said the only reason behind the price hike of potato is ‘hoarding’.

Industry insiders said some big traders and cold storage owners are controlling the stocks of potato. The big potato traders are now selling potato at Tk 23.60 at wholesale level, which was only Tk 12 a year ago.

But the traders are not willing now to release potato from stocks in both Munshiganj and Rangpur districts, the hub of potato cultivation.

According to the statistics of Agriculture Extension Department of Munshiganj, the district witnessed a record production of 10.50 lakh tonnes last season. Of this, only 30 percent has so far been released to the market.

Traditionally, potato growers sell potato from their field. The whole potato business then goes to the hands of some businessmen and cold storage owners who use the stocks to their advantage.

The potato was sold at Tk 9.50 to Tk 11 per kg at field level until March this year. The market price was between Tk 16 to Tk 18 until June with sufficient supply of potato by growers or traders. After June, the market went beyond control.

Mir Siraj, a farmer of Munshiganj, said it requires only Tk 17 for per kg potato covering all costs, including that of production and storage. “I don’t know why the price goes up at retail level,” he added.

He however said it is true that at the end of the season traders become eager to get more profits by hiking the price at cold storage level.

The traders are hopeful about getting more benefit this year by selling their potato stock in the coming days due to lower production of potato in the district last season, said Mostafa Azad Chowdhury, director of Motahar Group of Industries Ltd which owns 13 cold storages in Rangpur and Bogra. He said the traders are interested to release potato from their stocks to the market for this reason.

Mostafa Azad said there were 73,000 bags of potato in one of their cold storages. Until August 19, 18,000 bags of potato–5,000 bags belonged to businessmen and 13,000 to farmers–were marketed from the storage, he added.

He said if businessmen and potato growers do not want to take delivery of their stocks before the scheduled time, cold storage owners have nothing to do as per the agreement.

Khandoker Tafakkharul Islam, a big potato grower of Mahiganj under Sadar Upazila in Rangpur, said the growers tend to sell potato from their stock at home from March to June. But this year growers didn’t have any in stock due to lower yield, he added.

He said growers incurred huge loss last year because of surplus production and they must avail themselves of the opportunity of shortfall in potato production.

In the wholesale market, potato is being sold at Tk 1,800 to 2,200 per bag of 85 kg at the wholesale market whereas the price of the same bag of potato was between Tk 1600 and Tk 1,800 a month ago.

During the harvesting period, businessmen purchased a bag of potato between Tk 1000 and Tk 1,200 from the farmers.