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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

bumper potato harvest ~ ruins farmers !!

The potato is a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial nightshade Solanum tuberosum L. 

The word "potato" may refer either to the plant itself or the edible tuber. It is the world's fourth-largest food crop, following maize, wheat, and rice.  The news of a farmer suicide in the AAP rally the Delhi CM proceeding with the meeting hit the headlines, ridiculed by many !!

Catastrophes are nothing new to mankind ! ~they are called ‘Act of God’ too !! Earthquake struck in our neighbour land ~precious human lives have been lost – the count is going up – and a couple of days after the event, the survivors are also struggling  wanting expeditious relief.  Some state that disasters  are only likely to get worse in the future,  owing  to a combination of climate change, population growth, urbanization, environmental degradation, and violence.  In someways, tremors don't kill people. Buildings do. We get to hear this often from seismologists each and every time a deadly quake strikes ~sadly, it has become horrifically relevant again on 25.4.2015, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, leaving at least 4,000 dead (and counting).   It is stated that earthquakes are much, much deadlier in places where buildings are poorly constructed, unreinforced, and not designed to withstand shaking. Kathmandu, Nepal, was a gruesome example.

There have been catastrophes like floods, earthquakes and then there have been famines.   Centuries ago,  there reportedly was a big famine during Tughlaq dynasty.  From  1913, Major Freeman Freeman-Thomas, 1st Marquess of Willingdon held gubernatorial and viceregal offices throughout the British Empire, starting with the governorship of Bombay and then the governorship of Madras, before he was in 1926 appointed as Canadian governor general by the King.  In 1917, the year before Willingdon's resignation of the governorship, a severe famine broke out in the Kheda region of the Bombay Presidency, still, the  Govt. insisted that tax not only be paid but also implemented a 23% increase to the levies to take effect that year. 

In Independent India, in 1961 India was on the brink of mass famine. Borlaug was invited to India by the adviser to the Indian minister of agriculture M. S. Swaminathan. Despite bureaucratic hurdles imposed by India's grain monopolies, the Ford Foundation and Indian government collaborated import wheat seed from CIMMYT. Punjab was selected by the Indian government to be the first site to try the new crops because of its reliable water supply and a history of agricultural success. India began its own Green Revolution program of plant breeding, irrigation development, and financing of agrochemicals.

It  is not always disaster that worry people – perhaps, sometimes bountiful crops too !!! .... at a time when the plight of farmers for crop loss due to unseasonal rain seems to have become the biggest concern for the Centre, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has written to finance minister Arun Jaitley recently to rescue farmers of the state, who are faced with sliding potato prices due to a bumper crop this season.

Listing the steps already taken by the Bengal government to ensure that the record 1,20,000 metric tonne yield in the country's second largest potato growing state after UP fetches a fair price, the CM has urged the Centre to take specific measures to ensure that the farmers don't lose out due to a fall in prices. Banerjee, in her second letter to Jaitley, after the one she wrote on April 9, said the state has taken steps like directly procuring potato from farmers for supplying to ICDS and midday meal beneficiaries, providing transport subsidy for inter-state movement of potato by the railways and subsidy for exporting potato from the Calcutta port.“The state has also requested to the Centre on April 9, for procurement of 1 lakh metric tonne potato from Bengal through central government agencies,“ the latest letter said.

In the letter, the CM asked the finance minister to waive loans taken by potato farmers and also allow fresh loans for the kharif crop. “It is estimated that about 4.13 lakh potato growers have taken loans from commercial banks, regionalrural banks and cooperative banks. Considering much lower realization of prices of potato causing economic hardship to farmers it is requested that crop loans should be waived by the commercial, RRB and cooperative banks in Bengal. Jaitley may advise the financial banks and Nabard to initiate immediate steps in consultation with the state government to waive the loans and at the same advance fresh loans to them so that farmers may be able to prepare themselves for kharif crop,“ the letter said. [source Times of India]

Away in Chandigarh, last month, the potato prices touched an almost all-time low in the market, as  farmers were crying for help. In the wholesale market, the price of potatoes came  down to Rs 200 per quintal. Last year, it was about Rs 1,000 per quintal. The rate of potato seed also went  down to Rs 500-600 per quintal where as during the corresponding period last year, it was in the range of Rs 1,200-1,500 per quintal. Punjab is one of the leading potato seed producers in the country. In fact, 80 per cent of potato produced in Punjab goes as seed to other states such as West Bengal and the remaining goes to the open market for sale.

“Cold store owners are reluctant to stock potatoes in their stores because they fear that farmers would not return to reclaim it due to the fall in the prices,” said a leading potato grower from Jalandhar.  It is stated that last time, farmers got a good return. So, they increased the area under potato crop this year in almost all potato-growing states, thus creating a glut in the national market. To add to it, the yield went up by 15% this year compared to last year, he said. Besides Punjab, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh have good yields, almost 20% more than last year. Even Pakistan, which imported a substantial stock of potatoes from India last year, has a bumper crop this time. "In fact, Pakistan is exporting potatoes to Afghanistan and other adjoining countries this year. Russia, which used to buy some stock earlier, has stopped it due to a big fall in the value of their currency," .....

So good crops have this time ruined the farmers !!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

28th April 2015.

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