India: How a Good Yield of Crop became a Problem of Plenty for the Potato Farmers
Farmers all over the potato belt are dumping their produces out on the roads, as the Yogi government continues to ignore their plight.
Shamsher Singh, a farmer from Agra, Uttar Pradesh, is a worried man. He produced 100 sacks of potatoes this season but could sell only fifty of them that too at the rate below his investment in the produce, in a desperate hope to get some money back in return. The rest of the fifty sacks he had put in the nearby cold storages but has not claimed it till now as the rates have gone abysmally low.
In some cases, the potatoes were sold in local mandis at as less as Rs. 100 per sack of fifty kilograms. This has forced Singh and thousands of farmers like him in UP, to leave their produce in the cold storage rather than selling them in the local market, which would not have even gotten them the transportation cost from cold storage to the market, let alone giving them their investment in the produce.
Once the potatoes go unclaimed by the owners, the cold storage authorities finding it difficult to get their maintenance expenses, dump their produces outside the storage facility. This has resulted in hundreds of quintals of rotten, unsold potatoes, dumped on either side of the roads in villages of Agra. This thought saddens Singh immensely.
“I spent about Rs. 700/quintal in the potato farming. The government rate of purchasing potato is Rs. 487/quintal, which in itself shows how much disconnect is there between the government and the farmers. If I include the expenses on cold storage then the input cost would go to Rs. 800-900/quintal. How do you expect to help the farmers to survive, let alone make a profit of fifty percent, as claimed in this budget when you offer them a rate which is half of their investment?” asked Singh while talking to Newsclick on phone from Agra.
The sight of tons of potatoes being dumped in open fields outside the cold storages is a common sight these days, not only in Agra but in the entire potato belt of Uttar Pradesh. This belt includes Mathura, Aligarh, Etawah, Kannauj, Mainpuri, Hathras, Farrukhabad, among others.
A detailed chat with potato farmers revealed that in some cases farmers used the act of dumping their produce of potato in open fields as a protest against low rates. In other cases, it was a helpless gesture to convey their anger across to the State government, which they alleged, failed to take note of their plight.
This year has been a problem of plenty for the potato farmers in the State which is the largest producer of potatoes in the country. Last year, Uttar Pradesh produced 155 lakh metric tonnes of potatoes, the highest ever in the State. UP contributes highest over 31 percent to country’s total potato production. Every year the land under potato cultivation is growing exponentially and so is the production.
A record 120 lakh tonnes was also stored in the 1,708 cold storages in the State. But rather than being good news for the farmers, the record-breaking production of the crop led to a decline in the selling rates creating problems for the farmer.
In order to provide relief to the farmer, the Yogi Adityanath government came up with the scheme under which the State agencies would purchase 1 lakh metric tonnes at a support price of Rs 487 per quintal. However, the farmers termed it a “cruel joke” as it was much below their input cost in the produce.
Farmer activists alleged that the Yogi Adityanath government had conveniently ignored the plight of potato farmers. So when some of them were forced to dump potatoes outside the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, as well as near the Chief Minister’s residence on January 6, as a mark of protest, they expected that the government would “wake up and heed to their distress call”.
Activist like Ghulam Mohammad Jaula, a former senior leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and founder of Bharatiya Kisan Manch, told NewsClick that “shockingly, the Yogi government got many policemen to investigate the protest as conspiracy to defame the government and arrested many people and filed an FIR against them. However, the entire fiasco brought the much-needed focus on the dilemma faced by potato farmers.”
Jaula and many other activists from BKU are demanding that the minimum support price be increased from Rs. 4,870 to Rs 10,000.
Jaula said that at least ten farmers in potato belt alone have committed suicides last year due to the crisis of potatoes rates.
“According to our estimates and network of activists, ten farmers from the potato belt committed suicide because they could not get a dignified MSP on their produce. The brutal apathy of the government towards the farmers only accentuated the crisis in their lives,” Jaula added.
According to Harnam Singh, a member of BKU, while farmers did not get “dignified and adequate rates” for their produce, they also faced problems regarding storing their produce.
“While the new produce is already in the market, last year’s produce is there in cold storages. In this situation, the last year’s produce ends up becoming a liability for the farmer. Potato farmers who already face the loss of the input costs, have the option of either letting their produce rot in the storages or they can try to sell the old produce at throwaway prices in markets while competing with the new produces,” he said.
“Many farmers then chose to let their produce rot in the cold storages or threw them in their fields for cattle to eat, because it was financially not feasible for them to transport the old produce to the market to sell at low prices,” added Singh.
The State Agriculture Minister Surya Pratap Shahi, however, assured that the Yogi government would “take care” of the potato farmers. He said that the state government was coming up with a set of measures for their welfare. But activists like Jaula and farmers like Shamsher Singh were not very optimistic about the assurances.