Potato exports saw a quantum leap in the recently concluded fiscal year, buoyed by higher shipments to Russia amid a tight supply from Pakistan and India to the global market, exporters said yesterday.
Exports crossed the one-lakh-tonne mark for the first time in fiscal 2013-14, rising threefold from only 28,416 tonnes in the previous year, according to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
Earnings also trebled to $33.82 million in 2013-14 compared to the previous year, Export Promotion Bureau data shows.
"This is a milestone. We want to perform better in the days to come. We are trying to consolidate in Russia, which is a big market for potato," said Shaikh Abdul Quader, president of Bangladesh Potato Exporters Association, which recorded the total exports at 116,000 tonnes in the last fiscal year.
Of the quantity, nearly 20,000 tonnes were exported to Russia, where Bangladeshi exporters enjoyed wider market opportunities due to a ban on Pakistani potatoes over pest risks.
Exports to other traditional markets such as Malaysia, the Middle East and Sri Lanka also rose owing to a slow supply from Pakistan and India where unfavourable weather took a toll on production.
The surge in exports came on the back of low prices in the domestic market during January-February, when prices fell below the production cost of around Tk 6 a kilogram.
An increased demand for exports and a build-up of stocks later caused the prices to swell, helping many of the country's seven lakh farmers narrow down losses they had suffered earlier due to a supply glut.
Prices that fell below Tk 2 a kilogram at the farmers' level in January are now Tk 22-25 in Dhaka markets. On January 23, potato was selling at Tk 10-12 a kilogram in the capital, according to Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.
Frustrated by sliding prices, farmers in many northern districts had staged protests and dumped their produce on highways during the harvesting season, prompting the government to explore opportunities for export. Currently exporters get 20 percent cash incentives.
"Low prices in the domestic market were one of the main factors behind the rising exports. The government initiatives to create wider market opportunities have also helped," said Md Ahsan Ullah, quarantine entomologist at the DAE's plant protection wing.
However, retaining the markets, especially Russia, depends largely on ensuring consistent quality and export of disease-free vegetables.
In May, Russia denied entry of a potato shipment from Bangladesh after detecting brown rot disease, according to Fresh Plaza, an online portal on global fresh produce.
"At the moment, we are working to eliminate the disease. We have taken huge programmes to ensure smooth exports to Russia," said Quader of the exporters' association.
The government, too, has prepared an action plan to ensure production of disease-free potato, he added.
Diseases apart, production of exportable potato varieties is low although the country produces potato more than its annual demand.
Potato production rose to 89 lakh tonnes in fiscal 2013-14 from 86.03 lakh tonnes a year ago, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics data shows.
Of the total production, 10 lakh tonnes are used as seed and 60-65 lakh tonnes consumed, according to Bangladesh Cold Storage Association.
Potato exports have started rising since fiscal 2009-10, mainly to cater to the demands from Bangladeshi migrants in Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East.