Price plunge alarms potato farmers

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Category : Munshiganj Related, Munshigonj

Sohel Parvez
Potato prices have plunged to a four-year low both at retail and grower levels due to an increased supply. The fall in prices has created fears among farmers of another year of losses.

In the last two months since the beginning of the harvest, the retail prices slumped more than 60 percent to Tk 6-Tk 8 a kilogram at city markets, according to Trading Corporation of Bangladesh data.

At the grower level, potatoes sell at Tk 3-Tk 5 now, almost half of the last year’s harvest season prices, said Department of Agricultural Marketing data.

“The prices are too low to cover the production costs. I didn’t sell potato at such a low price in the past several years,” said a farmer at Munshiganj, Mir Mohammad Sirajull Islam, who incurred a loss of Tk 6.68 lakh last year due to low prices.

This year, Islam had cut production area by almost half to five acres. But the latest slump in prices has deepened fears of losses for the second year.

“If the present prices continue, I will suffer a Tk 3 lakh loss,” said the farmer.

“My capital is exhausted. I can’t bear the losses year after year. I am going to quit potato cultivation,” said a battered Islam, who borrowed a portion of his funds to grow the tuber, one of the most consumed vegetables.

The slide in the prices comes on a rising supply amid a hurried harvest, as a section of farmers in the north now opts for boro rice cultivation on the same land.

With better harvests, prospects of a rise in output due to favourable weather also led the price slump, as cold storages are yet to begin preserving the tuber in full swing. If the cold stores started putting the crop in, the supplies to the market would come down, resulting in a possible price rebound.

Jasim Uddin, chairman of Bangladesh Cold Storage Association, said these early harvested potatoes are immature to preserve.

He said production would touch as high as one crore tonnes this year from 80 lakh tonnes a year ago.

Unless the government intervenes in buying the potato to distribute through its various safety net schemes, the farmers may not get fair prices and recover their production costs, he said.

Mohammad Tazminur Rahman, a farmer at Kalai, Joypurhat, in the north, said the prices were Tk 18-Tk 20 at the beginning of the harvest last year. But it began to fall amid the prospects of a better yield, he said.

“The prices started tumbling since early this month. And now we have to sell a maund (40 kg) at Tk 100-Tk 110,” said Rahman.

Shohel Khandoker, a farmer from Mahiganj, Rangpur, said the Tk 5 price of each kilogram of potato at farm level last year at least helped him narrow down the losses.

“But the present prices are worrisome,” he said, adding that he would be able to recover the investments if the farm level prices exceed Tk 4 per kilogram.

“Otherwise, I will have to incur Tk 12,000 losses per acre,” he said.

However, Islam of Munshiganj, a major potato growing area, is a bit optimistic, as there is a chance for the prices to rebound if the cold storages begin storing the potato.

But the prospect of increased gains from the possible spike appears dim for both Islam and Khandoker.

The cold store owners have already hiked storage charges this year, said Islam.

sohel@thedailstar.net

thedailystar

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