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West Bengal: As Potato Prices Crash, 2 Farmers Die by 'Suicide'

AIKS Burdwan district president Sukul Shikdar said that the district has witnessed over 150 suicides by farmers since last year.
WB: Potato Farmers Plan Road Blockades on March 11 to Demand Fair Prices

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Kolkata: Two potato farmers from the Burdwan and Paschim Medinipur districts of the state reportedly died by suicide this week. The deaths sound an alarm as the potato prices have crashed in the state – pushing the potato farmers deeper into debt.

The two deceased farmers were identified as Ismail Shaikh and Tapas Ruidas. Shaikh’s son, Shariful told reporters that his father had leased seven bighas of land in the Burdwan district to sow potatoes. “He had taken a loan of Rs 7 lakh from moneylenders to lease the land and grow the crop. This, along with the loss due to a bad harvest last year, made up a huge loan,” he said.

All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) Burdwan district president Sukul Shikdar said that the district has witnessed over 150 suicides by farmers since last year.

The potato farmers in the state – demanding just and equitable prices for their produce and urging the government to buy back their produce at Rs 1,000/quintal – are all set to blockade all the state and national highways on March 11.

The demand for just prices for potato produce comes after potato prices fell to Rs 5/kg in some districts.

The potato farmers say that they have been following scientific farming methods and have increased their produce. However, the unavailability of the cold storage facility – which adds up to about 64 lakh metric tonnes in the state – can bring down the prices. Various agricultural experts have opined that procurement by the government is the way out of the crisis.

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 as low as Rs 1 or 2/kilo, which is then dumped into cold storage by intermediaries who reap a profit when the prices rise. Thus, farmers are resigned to losses despite a good harvest this year.

Potato farmers in the state say they face losses of more than Rs 7,000/bigha as market prices of the crop have dropped.

Speaking with NewsClick, Pradip Majumdar, Minister in Charge of the state agricultural department had said that one had to wait and see the ramifications of potato production this year. Last year, he alleged that businesspeople 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 steps 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.

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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