Pakistán: Pakistan potato glut shows suffering of small-crop farmers
This year’s potato glut has once again exposed how vulnerable Pakistan’s growers of small crops are to market forces.
When a Karachi-based superstore offered potatoes for Rs2 per kilogram to lure customers in mid-February, people were flabbergasted. It turned out that the store was really selling potatoes at that rate. It is a separate story, though, that it doubled the rate after a few days — and began selling the same potatoes after 10 days for Rs70 per 5kg bag. The same superstore, as part of a sales promotion deal for customers, had also offered other vegetables at unbelievably low prices: 2kgs of cabbage, for example, were available at a token price of just Re1.
Apart from the dark secrets of mega marketing schemes of our superstores, the fact that stands out here is this: the potato crop has been large and, with sufficient carryover stocks of the past year, the market is witnessing a potato glut. The same is not true for all other vegetables. But generally speaking, supplies of some of other vegetables have also exceeded demand. So their prices have crashed.
Larger production of vegetables has, meanwhile, resulted in 41 per cent increase in export volumes and 9.8pc growth in foreign exchange earnings in the first seven months of this fiscal year, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.
In July-January, Pakistan exported more than 507,000 tonnes of vegetables, up from 359,000 tonnes in the year-ago period. Export earnings, however, rose to just $115.5 million from $105.2m. But within this group, exports of potatoes have not increased, thus deepening its glut. But potato exports are yet to pick up pace as the country has exported only about 250,000 tonnes of them in the last seven months.
According to recent media reports, this year’s crop size is huge — 4.5m tonnes — against the maximum projected domestic consumption of 3.75m tonnes.
Potato farmers have suffered this year with the wholesale prices not even covering half of their cost of production. The problem is that for decades the country’s political elite has pampered wheat and sugar cane crops, paying little attention to equally important two other major crops — rice and maize — and neglecting almost all minor crops, including pulses, oilseeds and vegetables. Successive governments have spent hundreds of billions of rupees in subsidies on wheat and sugar cane for cultivation and production of the crops and local and foreign sales of wheat grains or sugar.
According to dawn.com¸ not a fraction of that amount has been spent on the promotion of minor food crops.