Falling potato prices fan farmers’ woes

Potatoes being sorted by size in a cold storage in Munshiganj sadar upazila on Friday afternoon with plans to send those to Cox’s Bazar. Sazzad Hossain
Sohel Parvez

A bumper yield of potato has now become a matter of concern for growers and traders as demand for the tuber declined for the ongoing countrywide lockdown.

Exports also could not help producers as the quantity of shipments edged up marginally, leaving farmers in a situation that does not usher hope to post profit, as only four months remain before the arrival of fresh harvests.

“The situation is very bad this year. It has become tough to sell potato. It appears that there would be no escape from losses,” said Mazharul Islam, a potato farmer in Joypurhat, one of the main potato producing districts in the north.

Islam stored nearly 4.5 tonnes of the vegetable this year in cold storage. This includes 3.6 tonnes of potatoes that he grew on his own fields. He bought the rest during the peak harvesting season to store and sell in the lean period.

At the cold storage gates in his area, traders are offering Tk 700 for each 60-kilogramme bag of potato, which is around Tk 12 per kg.

His costing per bag stands at Tk 1,050 or Tk 17.5 per kilogramme.

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

Farmers produced 1.06 crore tonnes of potato this calendar year, up 10 per cent from 96 lakh tonnes in calendar year 2020, shows data from the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).

And encouraged by high prices of the popular vegetables for recurrent floods and public and voluntary distribution among poor people following outbreak of Covid-19 last year, farmers and traders stored increased quantity of the tuber vegetable this year.

Bangladesh Cold Storage Association (BCSA) estimates that growers and traders stored 55 lakh tonnes of potato this year to sell during the lean season.

Of the quantity, roughly 10 lakh tonnes will be used for seed and the rest for consumption.

And BCSA President Mosharraf Hossain said 30 per cent of the vegetable stored in cold storages has been released since June, when farmers begin to sell tubers from storages.

Islam is yet to clear potatoes from what he holds as he would only get Tk 7.5 per kilogramme at the current market price, which is 23 per cent less than the production cost of Tk 9.7 per kilogramme, as estimated by the Department 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 shipment increased 2 per cent year-on-year to 55,840 tonnes in fiscal 2020-21 from 54,800 tonnes the previous year, reads data from Plant Quarantine Wing of the DAE.

Kazi Mahabub Morshed, organising secretary of Bangladesh Potato Exporters Association (BPEA), said his firm got $3.5 million-worth of contracts to export 15,000 tonnes of potato to Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia.

“We could export nearly 7,000 tonnes,” he said, adding that absence of adequate varieties suitable for export was a main reason for the low quantity of shipments.

“Farmers were least interested to sell potato during harvesting period,” said Md Zakir Hossain, secretary general of Bangladesh Potato Exporters Association.

Mohammad Monir Hawlader, a farmer of Tongibari in Munshiganj, one of the country’s main potato producing districts, said prices of the tuber were higher during the harvesting season. Later, prices declined.

Howlader feared incurring losses of Tk 4 lakh this year.

Farmers and traders registered prices in July particularly before the Eid-ul-Azha. Prices began to decline after the government enforced a lockdown since July 23 to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Yesterday, potato prices were Tk 20-Tk 25 per kilogramme in Dhaka city markets, down four per cent from that a month ago, data by the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh showed.

Zuhurul Islam, a farmer at Joypurhat, said prices might drop faster once farmers and traders begin to release increased quantity of potato from storages.

“Prices are not falling as most of the people are not selling. Market will fall when there will be abundant supply,” he said.

BCSA President Hossain said closure of restaurants for lockdown was responsible for the decline in demand for potato. “Besides, it is not being distributed as relief this year as we saw the previous year,” he said

“Problems will be solved to some extent if the lockdown is not continued,” he said.

Date: Aug 8, 2021