West Bengal: Farmers Die by Suicide as Potato Prices Fall
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Kolkata: A sudden dip in the market-driven potato prices has reportedly led to farmers dying by suicide in Burdwan district, which is known for potato farming. A farmer named Saiyad Abdul Momin (57) reportedly consumed pesticide and died after enquiring about potato prices with the cold storage authorities on Friday. This was the second such death in a week in the same district.
Potato prices have touched an all-time low in the state as the opening price of Rs 800 per basta (50 kg) has gone down to Rs 350 per 50 kg in the ongoing season.
Under the free bond system, a farmer pays an advance deposit for keeping his produce in the cold storage against a free bond that can be sold to a third party, who has to pay the price of storage plus the cost of produce to the farmer concerned while taking out potato stocks for sale in the market .
“Generally, in November, about 70 % of the produce is unloaded from the cold storage,” said Samar Ghosh, secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha’s Burdwan unit and a resident of the Jamalpur area. “About 15% stocks are kept for seed purposes, only 15% of the potatoes have come to the open market in this month. This year, about 50% of the produce is still in cold storage and there are no takers of free bonds even though the time of arrival of the new potatoes is fast approaching,” he said.
Saiyad Abdul Momin had sown potatoes on seven bighas and had kept 200 bastas of potatoes in the cold storage. On the rest of his land, he had sown the aman variety of rice and had taken a loan of about Rs 6 lakh, according to his family members. The money was being used to deal with pest infestation on his land. His son, Saiyad Allauddin, told NewsClick that his father was under pressure from moneylenders, who were coming home and issuing threats. As a result, he reportedly died by suicide.
There has been a dip in free bond potato prices which are fetching as low as Rs 12 per kg, whereas the product is being sold at Rs 30 per kg in Kolkata. According to Samar Ghosh, middlemen are reaping profits while farmers suffer.
AIKS state secretary Amal Halder, told NewsClick that immediate intervention by the state and Agricultural Marketing Department was required to prevent such incidents.
Notably, potato growers are dealing with losses of about Rs 7,000 per bigha since last year as well due to the drop in market prices. The market in the state is subject to huge price variations and volatility. As a result, potato farmers are forced to sell their produce at the meagre rate of Rs 1-2 per kg after harvest.
Middlemen, who purchase the produce at such a low rate, then dump it into cold storage. They reap profits when prices eventually rise. Farmers, on the other hand, have been facing losses despite a good harvest this year.
With the steep increase in the cost of production this year, farmers say that a rate of Rs 600 for 50 kilos of potatoes is a fair price. However, the rate at which they are selling currently is between Rs 350 and Rs 380 per 50 kilos. The state government has declared a price of Rs 300 per 50 kg as the stipulated rate for cold storage owners to buy and store the produce.
There are three ways for potatoes to make their way into the market. A portion of the produce is stored by the farmers themselves, another portion by middlemen and yet another by the cold storage owners – who buy the potatoes at Rs 300 per 50 kg from the farmers. Cold storage owners release batches of the produce depending on the market conditions.
West Bengal is one of the largest potato-growing states in the country. Hooghly district is the hub of potato production in the state and contributes over 40% of the total potato cultivation in the state. The district is known for its high-quality Chandramukhi variety. Over 60,000 farmers from the district are dependent on its cultivation to make ends meet.
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