Bengal farmers running out of cold storage space

Written by Rohit Khanna | ROHIT KHANNA | kolkata | Updated: Nov 21 2012, 09:27am hrs
Potato and tomato farmers in Bengal are staring at storage crunch this year. More than 10 cold storages have been shut this year and a few more are likely to down shutters soon due to increasing operational cost.

With the harvest season starting next month, its going to be a tough time for farmers. More than 420 cold storages out of 470 in the state observed a day-long strike on Monday protesting the state governments decision of not increasing the rentals. The state government controls rent for the cold storages loading potato.

Patit Paban Dey, a member of the West Bengal Cold Storage Association, said, If rentals are not revised, many of the cold storage owners will be forced to down shutters. That will be disastrous for farmers but we are unable to run cold storages at the present rates.

According to him, while operational costs have gone up by 50% in last three years, there has been no change in the rentals since 2010.

The state government increased rentals in February 2010 by R14 per quintal.

Tomato traders in the state are also fearing a crop loss as the state is headed for a bumper season.

GK Lahoti, a tomato trader, feels that if the crop is not preserved properly, it will lead to a huge loss next year.

We are expecting at least three-fold increase in tomato production in Haldibari area in north Bengal. It will lead to disaster if the crop is not preserved. We had a situation in 2010 when the farmers had to sell tomato at R50 per quintal while the average market price was R250 per quintal, Lahoti said.

Last year, tomato was sold at an average of R1,000 per quintal. A better crop can be beneficial if we can export it to other states. We need better packaging for that, said Achyut Chandra of the Eastern India Corrugated Box Manufacturers Association.

According to National Horticulture Board estimates, West Bengal produced around 10.6 lakh tonne tomato in 2010-11, almost 7% of the total production in the country.

We are promoting tomato to be packed in corrugated boxes. That would lead to a sharp decline in post harvest losses, said Chandra.

While tomato in Haldibari area in Coochbehar will not see post harvest losses, rest of the tomato growing districts will have to depend on multipurpose cold storages.

Arup Roy, minister of agriculture marketing of the state said, We are looking at ways to solve crop storage problems.