10 lakh tonnes of potato may remain unsold
Cold storage operators yesterday expressed apprehensions that nearly 10 lakh tonnes of potato would remain unsold this year owing to increased production and less than expected consumption.
The concern comes as prices of the tuber continue to remain low at both retails and cold storage gates because of ample stocking by farmers, stockists and cold storage operators.
And farmers and stockists are incurring losses on having to accept selling prices as low as Tk 9 per kilogramme of potato against production and storage costs of nearly Tk 18 per kilogramme.
Farmers bagged 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, and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Of the produce, storages still have 25 lakh tonnes of potato and only two months remain before fresh potato begins to arrive in December. Of the stored potato, farmers preserved 8 lakh tonnes as seeds for planting this season.
And excluding seeds, if consumption is taken into consideration during the rest of the season, 10 lakh tonnes of potato would remain unsold this year, said Mosharraf Hossain, president of Bangladesh Cold Storage Association (BCSA) after a press briefing yesterday at Dhaka Club.
The BCSA said demand for potato was high last year because of the loss of vegetable fields for floods and increased distribution of the tuber as relief among poor people amidst the spread of coronavirus.
Farmers got higher prices owing to increased demand and expanded cultivation of the tuber this year. And supported by favourable weather and low rate of pest attacks, potato yields grew this year.
And encouraged by the high prices, farmers and traders stored an increased quantity of the tuber this year.
However demand for potato remained low owing to closure of hotels and restaurants for recurrent countrywide lockdowns since April to combat the pandemic and falling appetite for distribution among the poor.
The BCSA said farmers were unwilling to release their potato from storages as a result of low prices.
"Under this circumstance, there will be no alternative but to throw away potato," said Hossain, adding that nearly 5 crore people, including 3 crore farmers, were engaged in potato farming and trading.
The BCSA said it urged the various government agencies to distribute potato as relief and under open market sales in order to clear some stocks. However there has been no progress, said Hossain.
Mazharul Islam, a potato farmer and stockist in the northern district of Joypurhat, said prices have been falling steadily over the last two months.
Early August this year, Islam told The Daily Star that traders were offering Tk 700 for each 60-kilogramme bag of potato at cold storage gates.
Prices have been around Tk 550 for the same 60-kg bag potato for the last one week, he said yesterday. His production, storage and other costs amount to around Tk 1,000 per bag.
At this price, he would incur huge losses, said Islam who himself would see a large quantity remaining unsold this year.
"We may have to sell potato as cattle feed this year," he said.
The BCSA demanded that the government provide subsidies and permit long-term rescheduling of loans.