WB: Potato Farmers Plan Road Blockades on March 11 to Demand Fair Prices
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Needpix.com
Kolkata: Demanding just and equitable prices for their produce and urging the government to buy back their produce at Rs1000/quintal, West Bengal potato farmers are all set to blockade all the state and national highways on March 11.
The movement for just prices for potato produce comes after potato prices fell to Rs 5/kg in some districts. North West Bengal farmers met at a convention in the Falakata community hall of the Alipurduar district.
Speaking to the assembled farmers, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) secretary (West Bengal unit) Amal Halder warned that the potato prices crisis might lead to more farmers being ridden with debt.
"The condition is alarming. Still, the government is doing nothing about it. We have seen how the Modi government bowed down before the farmers' movement and repealed the three farm laws. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) government is only following the Central government. On March 11, the whole state will come to a stop because we will create road embargoes throughout to protest on this issue. Alongside, we will give deputations to panchayat offices at village and block levels," Halder said.
Halder also demanded immediate steps to augment cold storage facilities for storing potatoes. He outlined that, per the state government's estimates, around 120 lakh metric tonnes of potato can be produced.
"The storage facility of cold storage is around 64 lakh metric tonnes. As potato farmers are following scientific farming methods, they have increased their produce. However, due to a lack of cold storage, the farmers are at a loss. In the present condition, the government has to side with the people."
AIKS state president Biplab Majumdar presided over the convention. In his speech, Majumdar demanded the government raise potato prices to Rs 1000/quintal and acquire the produce to help farmers tide over the current crisis.
Potato farmers in the state say they face losses of more than Rs 7,000/bigha as market prices of the crop have dropped.
The agricultural produce market in the state is subject to substantial price variations and volatility. Hence, potato farmers are often forced to sell their produce here at Rs 1 or 2/kilo, which is then dumped in cold storage by intermediaries who reap a profit when the prices rise. Thus, farmers are resigned to losses despite a good harvest this year.
Speaking with NewsClick, Pradip Majumdar, Minister in Charge of the state agricultural department, said that one has to wait and see the ramifications of potato production this year. Last year, he alleged that business people and traders imported a lot of potatoes from Uttar Pradesh, thinking they could earn an extra profit if the potato price hit the eye.
"This year, the whole process is staring at losses," he said, adding that if there is distress sale by the farmers, the government will intervene.
However, if that happens, it will be the first time in recent years that the TMC-led government stepped in to save potato farmers. The erstwhile Left Front government had stepped in twice, allotting Rs 400 crore and Rs 600 crore to purchase potatoes directly from the farmers, according to Halder.
There are three ways for potatoes to make their way into the market. A portion of the produce is stored by the farmers, another portion by the intermediaries, and yet another by the cold storage owners who buy the potatoes at Rs 300/50 kg from the farmers. The cold storage owners release batches of the produce depending on 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. The district is known for its high-quality Chandramukhi variety. Over one lakh farmers from the district are dependent on potato cultivation to make ends meet.
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