So many potatoes, yet nowhere to store
Increased potato production has become a cause for concern for farmers, particularly in the northern region of Bangladesh, as growers are finding it hard to manage space at cold storages to preserve the tuber.
The northern region accounts for 70 per cent of the total production of the popular vegetable in the country.
Most of the cold storages in the main potato producing region, Rangpur division, are already full, forcing many farmers and traders to return from the gates of the facilities. As they could not store a portion of their produce, the prices of the vegetable have declined at the farmers' end.
Mazidul Islam, who hails from the northwestern district of Lalmonirhat, could store only 150 bags (50kg each) of potato out of 460 bags in the cold storages. He has stored 50 bags of potatoes by following conventional methods in his house.
The 48-year-old grower had to sell the rest of the produce to local traders at Tk 8 per kg, which was below his cost of production.
"I had never thought that the potato market would be like this," he said.
Another farmer, Monirul Islam, from the same district, had a similar experience. He could store only 70 bags of potatoes in the cold storage.
In Taraganj upazila of Rangpur district, potato trader Tofayel Ahmed was able to keep 1,000 bags of tuber after his third attempt.
"All the storages have stopped taking potatoes," he said, adding that farmers will be in massive trouble in such a situation.
This has happened just for excessive production, he observed.
After failing to keep the vegetable in cold storages with a plan to sell them in the lean season, many farmers are preserving them using traditional methods in their houses. Yet there is a limit of storing.
Moshiur Rahman, managing director of Gobindaganj cold storage in Gaibandha district, said farmers' interest to store more potatoes increased this year as prices were higher last year.
"We have two cold storages in this upazila. We were open to store potatoes since February 25, and two storages were filled within 10 March," he said.
The Bangladesh Cold Storage Association (BCSA) has 400 cold storages. Its members and the storages together can preserve up to 58 lakh tonnes of tubers. Cold storages in the northern region account for three-fifths of the total storing capacity, said Mosharaf Hossain, president of the association.
Already, 85 per cent of the capacity of the cold storages has been occupied. The rest will be filled in the next two weeks, he added.
Hossain also said that space was available mainly in the cold storages in Munshiganj district, which alone accounts for 12 per cent of the total annual production of potato in Bangladesh.
Agricultural extension officials, cold storage operators and farmers all said that the expanded cultivation of potatoes this year was encouraged by higher prices in the last quarter of the previous year.
Last year, the prices of the most popular vegetable soared up to Tk 50 per kg at the retail level in Dhaka due to a supply shortage.
This year, growers cultivated potato on 4.86 lakh hectares, 4 per cent higher year-on-year, data from the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) and the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) showed.
Growers bagged 96 lakh tonnes of the tuber in 2020, according to a BBS estimate.
DAE Director General Md Asadullah said increased area and favourable weather contributed to higher production this year.
"We expect total production to be 1.10 lakh tonnes this year," said BCSA President Hossain.
Prices of potato dropped by Tk 2 per kg over the last two weeks to trade at Tk 9-10 at the farmers' end.
Hossain said the prices were likely to decline further after storing is complete.
"Prices of potato are decreasing day by day this year," said Nabiul Islam, a potato trader from Kurigram sadar upazila, a northern district.
Sunil Chandra Das, a 58-year-old farmer in Kurigram, said buyers were not even showing interest to buy the vegetable at Tk 7-8 per kg.
The government should carry out a proper estimate on the production and requirement of potatoes and draw up plans for the excess crop to help farmers, said Hossain.
(Our correspondents from Dinajpur, Lalmonirhat and Bogura contributed to the report).