- With lower production, potato demand and prices surged up last year
- Now a bumper yield is met with plummeted demand, low rates in early 2021
- This year's production 1.10 crore tonnes, annual demand 85-90 lakh tonnes
- As much as 20 lakh tonnes of unsold potatoes might be wasted this time
- Govt urged to include potatoes in food aids, rationing and open market sale
While the country saw a bumper potato yield last season, a three-month closure of restaurants and social events amid Covid-induced lockdown earlier this year led to a slump in consumption.
The consequent surplus supply of the vegetable has turned out to be a burden that squarely falls on the farmers, cold storage owners, and wholesale traders.
Let alone profit, we are not getting back even the production cost thanks to the production glut and the plummeting demand earlier this year, Mosharraf Hossain, president of the Bangladesh Cold Storage Association, told a press conference in Dhaka Saturday.
He demanded including potatoes to aid programmes, food rationing, vulnerable group feeding, and increasing cash assistance for potato exports.
Riding on growing demand, largely propelled by the use of potatoes in Covid aid programmes, the starchy tubers hit a record Tk50 per kg last year. In the face of the price hikes, the government had to fix potato rates and introduced the item to the open market sale (OMS).
This season, the spiralled rates encouraged farmers to cultivate potatoes on more lands. But the vegetables are now hovering around Tk25 per kg at retail.
According to the Cold Storage Association, potato production was 90 lakh tonnes last year while this year's production is around 1.10 crore tonnes. The annual demand for the vegetable is 85-90 lakh tonnes.
Unlike flooding and excessive rainfall, potato production this year had favourable weather, and the bumper yields piled up in the cold storage.
The cold storages now have around 40 lakh tonnes of potatoes, and it will have to be cleared by November to accommodate the new yield, said the association.
It added 20 lakh tonnes of the unsold vegetables are now fated to be wasted.
"The loss will amount to at least Tk2,000 crore that will affect the farmers, cold storage owners and traders," said Mosharraf Hossain.
According to Cold Storage Association sources, Bangladesh exported 45,000 tonnes of potatoes in the 2020-21 fiscal year. In the current year, the export volume is around 30,000 tonnes so far.
The association says at least 30 local companies are manufacturing potato chips though there is no available data about how much potatoes the companies are using for the chip-making.
Mosharraf Hossain said, "Our potatoes are not suitable for industrial use. Therefore, surplus production always puts us in trouble. We need to focus on contract farming, adopting new potato varieties and potato processing."