Reversal in potato export

Published: March 05, 2019 22:13:05 | Updated: March 07, 2019 22:17:17

The country's transition from a deficit agricultural output to a surplus one has not necessarily been happy all the time. In case of potato cultivation, a gross anomaly has been created over the years. Here is an example of how farmers' sincere toil and effort given to grow bumper crops can be frustrated by bad and arcane policy and planning on the part of higher authorities. For years together this all-important vegetable, second only to staples in importance as a component of meal, is grown more than 2.0 million in excess of the country's requirement roughly estimated at 8.0 million. The price of potato remains mostly -except during the early harvest of a new season-so low that the growers incur losses. For the past two consecutive years farmers were compelled to feed their unsold potato to cattle. In some areas farmers did not bother to release their stock from cold storages because the market price of potato was lower than the carrying cost and other expenses involved.

The policymakers, however, have been preaching for long that the surplus potato will be exported to destinations not tried before. In fact, a new market opened in Russia where potato is considered a staple. A few other countries like Vietnam also were exporting destinations. In 2014, record amount of potato valued at $35 million could be exported. But the following year, the export garnered $33 million. Then the export registered a sharp decline in the year 2016 because importers like Russia, Vietnam and Indonesia did not accept the produce from Bangladesh on phytosanitary ground. The European Union earlier had imposed bans on a few agro items including shrimp on the same ground. It appears, exporters here are yet to learn a lesson from the past debacles. In the Western world food items are put under rigorous scanner.

In the case of potato export, people at the policy level have let farmers down on two counts. First, they have not introduced new and improved varieties of potato that can easily pass the phytosanitary test. Then they failed to determine how much land has to be brought under traditional potato cultivation. Ever since the yield of potato has started outpacing the country's need, there was need for introduction of varieties of the long-shaped potato. Currently only the Diamond variety enjoys a market abroad. By this time, farmers would have been familiar with the right kind of potato cultivation and consignments of those would have met the criteria of import in Russia and other countries.

Clearly, lapses in planning have made a mess of potato export. Or, it is unimaginable that the volume of potato export declined by more than half within four years and the earning from it dipped to as low as $ 11.26 million last fiscal year. There was enough time to connect the loose ends. One of the measures could be strictly following the rules of contract farming. Under the arrangement, farmers would be provided with improved seeds, inputs and technical know-how for cultivation of select crops and exporters have to directly collect the yield from them. Thus substandard crops can be avoided and farmers also get fair price for their produce.    

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