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Gloom in potato belt

But things may change for one of the largest potato belts of Maharashtra this year.

Written by AADITI JATHAR LAKADE | Pune |
August 17, 2012 12:05:47 am

For the last 12 years,nearly 5,000 farmers of Satgaon Pathar in Ambegaon taluka,about 60 km from Pune,have been engaged in cultivating the root vegetable. Most of them are contract farmers who grow potatoes for manufacturing wafers and sell them to companies such as ITC Foods Limited,Pepsico Holdings Private Limited and Parle.

With 8,600 acres,ie about 90 per cent of the total cultivable land in Satgaon Pathar,under the crop,the area produced five to six tonnes of potatoes per acre every year. But things may change for one of the largest potato belts of Maharashtra this year. Experts have predicted at least 30 to 40 per cent drop in production due to delayed monsoon.

Anand Vitthal Naikawadi,sarpanch of Wakalwadi,sows seeds that bring out an harvest of about 600 to 700 bags every year. “Since the rain began only in the later half of July this year,I have sown seeds for only about 350 bags,with an investment of Rs 6 lakh. Unless it rains till August,there is no chance that the crop is saved since it is solely dependent on monsoon,” he says.

Ram Todkar,another farmer who grows potatoes on his 20 acres every year,has decided to cultivate only 17 acres this year. “Every year,we start sowing after first monsoon showers in June and finish by the first week of August. This year,however,we have started only a week ago and will complete most of the sowing till August 5,” he says.

“This crop requires 300 to 400 mm rainfall between June and September. It will be difficult to sustain the crop if it rains less. Excess rainfall might also be a problem for the crop,” says Jaisingh Maruti Erande,another farmer who has considerably reduced the area under potatoes and is aiming for only 150 bags this year — down from 450 bags.

The client companies,however,deny that the low production will hit them hard. “Companies are into contract farming not just in Ambegaon,but also in Satara,Sangli,Ahmednagar,Akole and Parner. Since we buy from all these areas,we estimate that the deficit will be of only 10 to 15 per cent,” says the representative of one of the firms that buys the produce from Ambegaon farmers.

To add to the woes of the farmers is the fact that since potato is not a government-notified crop,it is not included in crop insurance. If the monsoon is further delayed or there is an excess rainfall in the coming months,the crop will be damaged and the farmers will have to bear losses to the tune of crores of rupees.

None of the insurance companies,including the Central government’s Agriculture Insurance Company of India,provides weather insurance cover for potato. “Private companies that provide weather insurance have their premium as high as Rs 4,500 per acre,which comes to five to 10 per cent of the total investment by a farmer. Even if the government does not include weather insurance,providing a subsidy will help farmers like us,” claims Todkar.

The farmers want the government to notify potato for the National Insurance Scheme,on the lines of jowar,bajra and maize.

They have been forwarding their request to Ambegaon MP Shivajirao Adhalrao Patil,Maharashtra Agriculture Minister Balasaheb Thorat,MLA Dilip Walse-Patil as well as the Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar for the last five years,but to no avail.

Shirur MP Shivajirao Adhalrao Patil says that he had taken up the matter in Parliament and with Sharad Pawar. “A good insurance scheme covering weather insurance and common diseases such as ‘late blight’ for potatoes will be looked into,” he adds.

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