The all-India monthly average retail price of potato rose to Rs 39.30 per kg in October, the highest in 130 months, official data from State Civil Supplies Departments compiled by the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, show.
The average retail price of potato in Delhi this month was slightly higher than the all-India average at Rs 40.11 per kg — also the highest since January 2010, almost 11 years ago.
The all-India average retail price per kg this October was almost double that of October 2019 (Rs 20.57 per kg). The average price in Delhi in October 2020 was 60 per cent higher than the Rs 25 per kg of the corresponding month last year.
January 2010 is the earliest month for which comparable data are available on the Ministry’s portal.
While retail prices of potato are usually higher during September-November due to seasonal variations, this year, the tuber started to get expensive from February-March, when average monthly retail prices reached about Rs 23 per kg.
Less storage to blame
One reason for the spike in retail prices is lesser storage than in earlier years. Prices continued to rise during the lockdown in April and May. In fact the Ministry had sounded an alert about the likelihood of a post-lockdown spike in prices.
Prices continued to rise steadily during the pandemic induced lockdown in April and May.
One reason for the higher retail prices this year is less storage compared to earlier years. According to some 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 year. This was much less than the 48 crore bags in 2019, 46 crore bags in 2018, and the record 57 crore bags of the 2017 post-demonetisation crop.
Data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare show that potato in cold storage this year is around 214.25 lakh tonnes (earlier reported to have been 211.29 lakh tonnes), against the 238.50 lakh tonnes in 2018-19.
The Ministry of Agriculture had, in fact, sounded an alert about the likely rise in potato prices post lockdown. “In view of lesser storage, there may be possibility of rise in prices once the lockdown fully lifts, and especially in coming months,” the Ministry had said in a report.
Not much was, however, done to augment the supply, and arrest the rise in prices. India exported about 1.23 lakh metric tonnes of potato to countries including Nepal, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia during April-August this year, Commerce Ministry data show.
On Friday, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, who also holds additional charge of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, said, “Potato (retail) prices have been stable at around Rs 42 over the last few days.” Some 30,000 metric tonnes of potato will start arriving from Bhutan in the next few days, Goyal said.
The Minister said the government had taken steps to moderate potato prices, and hoped they would be controlled. He said the import duty was earlier 30 per cent; now, a quota of 10 lakh metric tonnes at 10 per cent duty for import until January 31, 2021 has been notified.
Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Haryana are the major rabi potato producing states. UP, the largest producer which accounts for about 27 per cent of the country’s potato crop, has asked all private cold stores to offload their potato stock by October 31.
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