Falling potato prices fan farmers’ woes

    Potatoes are sorted by refrigerator in Munshiganj sadar upazila on Friday afternoon with plans to ship them to Cox’s Bazar. Sazzad Hossain

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    Potatoes are sorted by refrigerator in Munshiganj sadar upazila on Friday afternoon with plans to ship them to Cox’s Bazar. Sazzad Hossain

    Potato prepayment has now become a concern for growers and traders as demand for the tuber has declined due to continued blockade across the country.

    Exports could also not help producers as the volume of shipments increased marginally, leaving farmers in a hopeless situation with only four months left before the arrival of new crops.

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    “The situation is very bad this year. It is difficult to sell potatoes. It seems that no one will escape the losses,” said Mazharul Islam, a potato farmer in Joypurhat, one of the main potato growing areas in the north.

    Islam has stored nearly 4.5 tonnes of vegetables this year in a cold store. This includes 3.6 tons of potatoes he grew in his own fields. He bought the leftovers during the peak harvest season to store and sell them during the off-season.

    At the refrigeration gates in its area, traders offer 700 Tk for each 60 kg potato bag, which is about 12 Tk per kg.

    The cost per bag is 1,050 Tk or 17.5 Tk per kilo.

    “If I sell now, my losses will be 350 Tk per bag,” he added.

    Farmers produced 1.06 crore tonnes of potatoes this calendar year, up 10% from 96 lakh tonnes in the 2020 calendar year, according to the Ministry of Agricultural Development (DAE) and the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).

    And encouraged by the high prices of popular vegetables for repeated floods and public and voluntary distribution among the poor after the Covid-19 epidemic last year, farmers and traders stored increased supply of vegetable tubers this year.

    The Bangladesh Cold Storage Association (BCSA) estimates that growers and traders stored 55,000 tonnes of potatoes this year to sell during the fat season.

    Of the quantity, about 10 thousand tons will be used for seeds and the rest for consumption.

    And BCSA President Mosharraf Hossain said that 30% of the vegetables stored in cold stores have been released since June, when farmers began selling tubers from warehouses.

    Islam has not yet cleaned the potatoes from what it has as it would get only 7.5 Tk per kilo at the current market price, which is 23 percent less than the production cost of 9.7 Tk per kilo, as estimated by the Ministry of Agricultural Marketing (DAM).

    Now, he wants to wait until September to see if prices go up.

    “Otherwise what can I do? Increased exports could help us but there is no demand,” he said.

    Potato shipments increased by 2% year-on-year to 55,840 tonnes in the 2020-21 tax year from 54,800 tonnes last year, according to data from DAE’s Plant Quarantine Wing.

    Kazi Mahabub Morshed, organizing secretary of the Bangladesh Potato Exporters Association (BPEA), said his company had received $ 3.5 million worth of contracts to export 15,000 tonnes of potatoes to Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia.

    “We could export almost 7,000 tonnes,” he said, adding that the lack of sufficient varieties suitable for export was the main reason for the low volume of shipments.

    “Farmers were less interested in selling potatoes during the harvest,” said Md Zakir Hossain, general secretary of the Potato Exporters Association of Bangladesh.

    Mohammad Monir Hawlader, a farmer in Tongibari in Munshiganj, one of the country’s main potato growing areas, said tuberculosis prices were higher during the harvest season. Later, prices fell.

    Howlader feared he would lose 4 Tk this year.

    Farmers and traders recorded prices in July, especially before Eid-ul-Azha. Prices began to fall after the government imposed a July 23 blockade to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

    Yesterday, potato prices were 20 Tk 25 Tk per kilogram in Dhaka City markets, down 4% from a month ago, according to data from the Bangladesh Trading Corporation.

    Zuhurul Islam, a farmer in Joypurhat, said prices could fall faster once farmers and traders start releasing more potatoes from warehouses.

    “Prices do not fall as most people do not sell. The market will fall when there is plenty of supply,” he said.

    BCSA President Hossain said the closure of restaurants due to foreclosure was responsible for reducing potato demand. “Besides, it is not being distributed this year as aid as we saw last year,” he said

    “The problems will be solved to some extent if the lock is not continued,” he said.

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