Timesworld desk: Potato prices have plunged to as low as Tk 4 per kilogram at vegetable wholesale hubs in northern districts, the growing region, bringing sorrow for scores of farmers.
The production cost for a kilogram of potato is Tk 10, according to Md Jahangir Hossain, director of Tuber Crops Research Centre under the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute.
Growers stand to have margins if they get Tk 15 for each kg of potato. “This is a total loss for farmers,” Hossain said.
The weakened potato price has been blamed on the simultaneous harvesting in major regions that oversupplied the market. In the past, harvesting times varied, making prices favourable for farmers. This year, the plantation of the tuber crop was delayed in northern areas by erratic rainfall.
Farmers usually cultivate early varieties of potato after harvesting shortly matured aman paddy or vegetables, according to Delwar Hossain, managing director of Shahi Cold Storage of Thakurgaon.
But cultivation has been delayed by 20-25 days due to unusual rainfall this time.
“When farmers have started harvesting potato, winter vegetables also started arriving in the market. It gave buyers more options,” he added.
In Thakurgaon, a bordering district in the northwest, growers got Tk 4-8 by selling one kg of early harvested potato. A month ago, farmers sold early harvested potato at Tk 13-15 per kilogram and managed a profit too.
Over in Dhaka, the retail prices of potato stood at Tk 12-20 per kg, down 51 percent from a month ago. The vegetable traded at Tk 25-35 a kg a year ago, according to Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.
Encouraged by the higher prices during the off-season particularly in November, farmers have planted potatoes on increased acreage this season, according to officials of the Department of Agricultural Extension.
Potato acreage rose 9.68 percent to 5.21 lakh hectares this season, according to DAE and the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. Farmers grew 94.74 lakh tonnes of potato last season, up 2.38 percent from a year earlier.
Growers in the northwestern districts used to plant potato at different times and harvest accordingly, said Rahidul Islam, a vegetable wholesaler at Mahasthan Bazar in Bogra. But rainfall in October and November affected planting and standing crops in fields.
“As a result, those who planted early varieties could not harvest on time. Harvesting is now taking place in almost all districts, which has caused the prices to drop.”
Farmers had no other option but to harvest now as the quality of potato will start to erode after reaching a certain level of maturity.
Some of the growers were also in a rush to harvest the potato as they had to clear the space for growing boro rice, he said. Yesterday, Islam bought a couple of tonnes of potato for as low as Tk 150 each maund for his clients in Dhaka. It means the farmers had to sell the potatoes at Tk 3.75-4.5 each kg.
“You would have been shocked to see the anguish on the growers’ faces yesterday. Supply was abundant but there was no buyer,” Islam said, adding that the production cost of potatoes would be no less than Tk 10 per kg this year.
Azim Uddin, a farmer at Baliadangi upazila in Thakurgaon, spent Tk 70,000 to plant potatoes on one acre of land. Last week, he sold 20 maunds of potato for Tk 3,200. “At the current market price, I will run up huge losses.”
For Mohammad Ali, another farmer at Thakurgaon Sadar, this year’s potato cultivation would only bring him sorrow. The 50-year-old grower bagged 140 maunds of potato from 66 decimals of land. His proceeds from potato stood at Tk 26,000 against the investment of Tk 45,000.
“It is going to be very tough for me to arrange funds for boro cultivation,” said Anwar Hossain, another farmer from Thakurgaon, who incurred a loss of Tk 10,000.