The interest is accumulating and the debts are rising. Farmers complain that costs incurred on cultivating the crop are greater than the prices they are selling potatoes at, leading to heavy losses and rising debts. The Uttar Pradesh potato farmers are facing a problem of plenty. As per a report by the Indian Express, Uttar Pradesh, the largest potato producing state with about 35% of the country’s total output, has had a bumper crop in 2016-17 — over 155 lakh tonnes — with the result that potatoes are rotting along roadsides and outside cold storage units. The produce, which was sold for over 900 rupees per quintal last year in 2016, got trimmed by nearly one-half in 2017. The government claims it made a record purchase of about 13,000 quintals in April-May alone last year, and fixed the minimum support price for potato at Rs 487 per quintal in April, as per the report.
Owners of cold storage units say they too suffered losses when they had to dispose of potatoes, paying for transport and labour. Uttar Pradesh has 1,825 government as well as private cold storage houses, with a total capacity of 142.18 tonnes. As per data made available by UP Horticulture Department, 120.29 lakh tonnes was kept in cold storage in 2017, the highest at any point to this date. Coming to the rescue, the state government has started a scheme to provide a subsidy of Rs 50 per quintal for transport to other places up to 300 km.
In other moves, the government made it mandatory to cook potatoes in midday meals for over 1 crore children of government schools. However, the Opposition claims that the government’s efforts have not been enough to account for the surplus. Potatoes were also thrown at nearly all important areas of the state capital Lucknow to stage protest. However, a report by The Indian Express claims that those involved in the protests were not farmers but Samajwadi party members.
Further, the farmers haven’t yet been able to come to terms with demonetisation. The sudden decision by the Narendra Modi government created a two-fold problem for farmers – their largely cash-based economy went dry and the drop in demand due to the note ban ensured there was an excess supply of potatoes, leading to a sharp fall in prices. Potatoes are harvested in February and put in cold storage units. Then, they are gradually sold over the course of the year. But this year, even after cash came back into the system via new currency notes, a lot of the stock was still left over from the demonetisation period.
Taking a serious note of problems faced by potato growers, the Uttar Pradesh government has decided to set up a committee to suggest relief measures for them, as per a PTI report. The state cabinet presided over by the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath gave its nod for setting up the committee headed by Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, which will submit its report in 15 days time, added the report.
Notably, in the districts of Mathura, Aligarh, Agra, Mainpuri, Firozabad, Etawah, Kanpur, Farrukhabad and a few others, the rural populace is predominantly involved in potato farming.