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West Bengal: Farmers Demand MSP as Potato Prices hit Rock Bottom

Potato farmers in West Bengal have been hit by low prices, with a bag (50 kilogram) of their produce getting sold at just Rs 260.
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Kolkata: Potato farmers in West Bengal have been hit by low prices, with a bag (50 kilograms) of their produce getting sold at just Rs 260, with no support from the government yet.

The cold storage price for a kg of potato currently stands at Rs 5.20, while the open market price is Rs 14-15 per kg, leading to huge losses for farmers, as the cost of production has been rising since the past few years.

Biswarup Mondal, a potato farmer from Memari in Purba Bardhaman district, told NewsClick that the production cost of one bigha land for potato crop is Rs 32,000. At present rates, cultivators in Bengal are making Rs 20,800 after selling their produce from one bigha of land, which leaves them with a loss of Rs 11,200. 

Cultivators farming five bighas of land are  incurring a loss of Rs 56,000, against which they get a compensation of  only Rs 2,500 from the government. The minimum support price (MSP) in the state varies as per the crop.

For instance, farmers are promised an MSP of Rs 66,000 for selling aman variety of rice but have been forced to sell it without MSP in the open market where they are getting Rs 28,000. This leaves them with a total loss of Rs 38,000 per acre in five bighas of land. On average, farmer cultivating potato and aman rice is at present incurring an annual loss of Rs 1,29,000.

It may be recalled that the present Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in the state, unlike he previous Left Front governments, does not provide MSP for potato. Even the compensation for crop loss is Rs 500 per bigha, which is insufficient, as farmers say they end up losing Rs 25,000/bigha if their produce is getting sold at Rs 5 per kg.

Lack of support from the government is making things more difficult, as potato growers are getting the compensation of only Rs 5,000, with no MSP guarantee.

Even in case of boro rice (the Rabi season variety of the rice crop that is considered a cash crop), the farmers are in dire straits as they are not being able to recover the production costs due to poor sales and prices crash.

This is why farmers are also demanding that the government should provide MSP for boro crop, said Sayed Hossain, Burdwan district All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) secretary.

Some potato farmers recalled that when prices had crashed due to market fluctuations in 2010, the then Left Front government had bought potatoes from farmers and spent Rs 700 crore in facilitating relief measures. They, therefore, are demanding that the TMC government should pay insurance premiums for their crops.

Market prices for potatoes in the state undergo variations and quite often, farmers have been forced to sell their produce at Rs 1-2 per kg, which is then held back in cold storage by middlemen who reap massive profits when prices rise.

Potatoes reach the market in three ways. A portion of the produce is stored by the farmers themselves, the middlemen have a portion (who are currently buying it at Rs 260-280 for a bag) and cold storage owners have the remaining stock (by buying it at Rs 300 per bag from farmers).

Cold storage owners tend to release batches of their stock subject to market volatility in case the natun aloo (new potato) stock gets over. This is why the farmers have demanded that the minimum rate for a bag must be set at Rs 600, as the earlier rate doesn't help them cover their production costs which have increased over the years. 

West Bengal is one of the largest potato-growing states in the country after Uttar Pradesh.

Hooghly district is the hub of potato production and contributes over 40% of the total potato cultivation in the state, and is known for its high-quality chandramukhi variety. Over 60,000 farmers from the district are dependent on potato cultivation to make ends meet.

In Burdwan district, a sizeable amount of farmers is dependent on potato farming as a seasonal option after paddy cultivation.

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