After taking stringent measures to control onion prices, the government is now cracking the whip on potato hoarding, with Uttar Pradesh — the largest producer of the tuber in the country — asking private cold stores to offload the stock by October 31 in an attempt to bring down prices in the market.
According to the Department of Consumer Affairs website, under the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, retail prices of potato were recorded at anywhere around Rs 30 to Rs 60 per kg in cities across the country on Oct 24.
“States have been asked to take action against hoarding and blackmarketing in view of the amended Essential Commodities Act. Several states are taking actions,” said a senior official at the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, when asked about the measures being taken to control potato prices.
While these steps are yet to yield significant results with potato retail prices rising steadily in the current financial year amid low production this year, farmers in the potato belt are apprehensive of a negative impact of such measures, saying they are getting a good price due to lower production.
For instance, Uttar Pradesh, as part of its actions against hoarding, has asked cold stores to offload the potato stock by October 31. But farmers say that most of this stock is seed-potato which they will need for sowing.
Need for holistic mechanism
Retail prices have gone up due to several reasons, including lower production, disrupted supplies, reduced acreage and rise in inflation -- vegetable wholesale prices increased by more than 36% in September. With seed prices going up, production in the upcoming season is also likely to be affected. The way ahead is to put in place a mechanism to give farmers access to credible forecasts of opening stocks, domestic consumption and export demand for all crops.
“Under the Cold Storage Act, the period of potato storage in private cold storage of the district should be kept effective till October 31, and effective action should be ensured in respect of the arrival and sale of tomatoes, onions and potatoes so that hoarding is controlled,” UP Horticulture and Food Processing Additional Chief Secretary Manoj Singh said in orders sent to all District Collectors on October 10.
According to UP government estimates, there was a stock of 22 lakh metric tonnes of potato in cold storage across the state in October against a monthly consumption of about 6-6.5 lakh metric tonnes. However, Mohammad Alamgeer, general secretary of Aloo Utpaadak Kisan Samiti, Agra, said, “Normally, 30th November is the last date by when farmers are supposed to take out their potato stock from the cold storage…This is our seed, if we sell it, how we will sow the next crop.”
Alamgeer said potato sowing was delayed “due to prevailing high temperatures in October”. “Sowing will continue till November. So if we take out the stock by October 31, then our seed will get rotten.”
Doongar Singh, a potato farmer in Khandoli village in Agra, said the state government is “bullying the farmers”. “This is the first time in the last four years that potato farmers have got a good price. This is because of lower production this year,” Singh told The Indian Express over phone.
According to estimates, cold stores across India have stocked only an estimated 36 crore bags (of 50 kg each) of potato from the main rabi (winter-spring) crop harvested in February-March. This was against 48 crore in 2019, 46 crore in 2018 and the record 57 crore bags of the 2017 post-demonetisation crop.