UP: Potato Farmers Angry With Govt's MSP Rate, Doesn't Even Cover Half of Input Cost
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Lucknow: Deepak Sisodia, a farmer from Shekhupur village of Agra, Uttar Pradesh, is a worried man. He produced 100 sacks of potatoes this season but could sell only 50 at a rate below his investment in the produce in the desperate hope of getting some money back in return. He had put the rest of the sacks in the nearby cold storage but has not claimed it till now as the rates have gone abysmally low.
"I spent about Rs 1,100/quintal on potato farming. The government rate of purchasing potatoes is Rs 650/quintal, which shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi's claim of doubling farmers' income by 2022 is just a myth. How do you expect to help the farmers to survive when they have failed to meet the input cost," Sisodia told NewsClick.
Sisodia said the current rates would not cover his basic cultivation cost of Rs 800/quintal.
"If I add another Rs 200 for harvesting, grading, bagging, loading and transport, plus Rs 230 towards cold store rental, my total cost is nearly Rs 1,250/quintal," Sisodia, who has grown potatoes on 10 bighas, further said.
In some cases, the potatoes were sold in local mandis at less than Rs 300/sack of 52 kilograms. This has forced Sisodia and thousands of farmers like him in Uttar Pradesh to leave their produce in the cold storage rather than selling them in the local market, which would not have even gotten them the transportation cost from cold storage to the market, let alone giving them their investment in the produce.
It is not an isolated case; potato farmers from across the state have similar stories to tell.
Diwakar Singh, a farmer in Mainpuri, sowed potatoes in 10 bighas of land. The cost came to around Rs 3 lakh. He is not getting a buyer who could pay the cost he had invested.
"Even if we find a buyer, he seeks a rate of Rs 300-350/quintal. Not even half of the rate the government has fixed leave the input cost. If we struggle in queues to keep our crop in cold stores, we don't know how long we have to wait if we go after spending the freight charges to the cold storage as most of them return farmers, saying they are full with capacity," he alleged.
Anger is brewing among farmers in Uttar Pradesh on multiple scores, including the issue of non-remunerative prices for potatoes and the state's decision not to set up procurement centres in Agra and Firozabad — two of the biggest potato-producing regions of the state.
The state cabinet meeting has decided to purchase potatoes only from seven districts, including Farrukhabad, Kaushambi, Unnao, Mainpuri, Etah, Kasganj and Bareilly. The government's procurement price is Rs 650/quintal in the state.
"Not including two major potato production centres of the country is injustice to the farmers. Apart from this, farmers in the region are forced to sell their produce at Rs 400-550/quintal as the government is not purchasing from farmers," Shyam Singh Chahar, a farmer leader in Agra, told NewsClick.
Shyam Singh Chahar accused the authorities of ignoring the farmers' plights, saying such apathy towards potato farmers has not been seen in several years.
"A kilogram of potato costs only Rs 4-7 while a kilogram of lemon costs Rs 250. The price of green chillies is Rs 100-150/kg," he added.
Notably, the sowing of potatoes usually begins in November, and the crop is harvested in January.
Uttar Pradesh, India's largest potato-producing state, contributes 35% of the country's total potato production. The maximum number of stores are in the potato-belt districts of Agra (457), Firozabad (235), Etawah (129), Aligarh (120), Hathras (118) and Kannauj (112).
Farmers Struggle to Recover Cost of Production
Potato farmers are staring at a huge loss as prices have crashed to half from a year earlier amid a glut in production in the state.
The potato growers said that Etawah, Farrukhabad, Kannauj, Chhibramau and Auraiya potatoes are sold for Rs 470-510/quintal, even less than the minimum price announced by the state government. Farmers said they could not even earn the input cost of around Rs 1,200-1,400/quintal, depending upon the quality of the potatoes.
"We cannot afford to sell potatoes below Rs 1,100, as, at this rate, we cannot even meet the input cost," Kisan Pal Singh, a farmer in Firozabad who produced more than 40 sacks of potatoes but did not want sell due to low price set by the government, told NewsClick.
Demanding Rs 1,200-1,400/quintal price for potato, the farmer further said, "Potatoes should be purchased at the rate of at least Rs 1,200-1,400/quintal; then only the farmers will be able to earn some profit.
"Fertiliser, medicine, irrigation, token money and store charges, along with the farmers' labour, increased simultaneously. Instead of buying potatoes from farmers on MSP (minimum support price), considering the price hike, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government has fixed the potato price at Rs 650/quintal as a relief which is a cruel joke to farmers."
Potato's wholesale rate is Rs 400-450/quintal in Firozabad.
"Even this price is only for larger table potatoes. The smaller-sized gulla's (seed-grade) price is Rs 200/quintal. While kirri (baby) tubers are fetching no rate," claims Kisan Pal Singh.
Estimating the expenses, Kisan Pal Singh said 300 quintals of potatoes are produced in one hectare (one hectare=12 bigha). If sold at Rs 350/quintal, he will get Rs 1,05,000 lakh.
However, the input cost is around Rs 3,60,000. Therefore, the farmer is losing Rs 2,55,000 by selling it in the market.
According to the rates (Rs 650/quintal) fixed by the government, they will get Rs 1,95,000. The potato farmers will have incurred a loss of Rs 1,65,000 in one hectare.
According to the reports, potatoes have been sown on 6.94 lakh hectares this year. The yield is estimated to be more than 242 lakh metric tonnes this time. Even as the yield of potatoes improved, the farmers, instead of getting more profit, started facing the loss of falling prices. The shortage of space in cold storage has further aggravated the problem. As a result, potatoes started reaching the mandis directly, resulting in a drop in prices.
Meanwhile, an official in Lucknow wishing anonymity told NewsClick that increased production of potatoes and a stop on supply to Pakistan and some other neighbouring countries is one of the reasons behind the drop in prices.
"We are in the process of exporting potatoes to many countries. We have sent potatoes to Nepal, and 600 quintals have been sent from Agra to Dubai, Qatar and Malaysia," Minister of State (Independent Charge) Dinesh Pratap Singh told media soon after farmers from the potato region started complaining about crashing prices.
All India Peoples' Front visited potato regions and met farmers to understand their plight.
Dinkar Kapoor, state general secretary of the union, wrote a letter to the chief minister Yogi Adityanath to pay heed towards potato farmers and increase the procurement rate from Rs 650 to Rs 1,500. The union also appealed to the government to subsidise the farmers for keeping their crops in cold storage.
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