Lahore: Again, this year Punjab has a bumper potato crop. What should have been the moment of joy and relief for the farmers, has become a time of frustration because of their inability to fetch the right rate. The farmers lament that at the present rate they can barely make to the break-even point.
The price of potatoes has gone down to Rs 7/kg from Rs 25/kg due to excess production this year.
According to the official data, provided by the Agriculture Department Punjab, the local demand for potatoes has been 2.7 million tons whereas the country has harvested 3.7 million tons this year.
Ikramul Haq owns 11 acres of agricultural land in a village called 6R, 15 kilometers from district Sahiwal in Punjab. For the last three years, he has been facing one crisis after another due to price fluctuation of the potato crop. This year too he has been unable to retrieve the cost of production.
“An average cost of potato production is somewhere around Rs 100,000/acre. My total cost of production for 11-acre area is 1,100,000 (1.1 million rupees). Because of excess production this year, I could barely get Rs 60,000 per acre. Which means, at the end of the day, I would recover Rs 660,000; bearing a loss of Rs, 440,000.” said Ikram
Out of 1320 bags of potatoes, Ikram has so far sold only 500 bags (each bag contains approximately 150 kg potatoes). He has stashed 300 bags in cold storage while the rest of the potatoes are stocked in his farms so that whenever there is a demand he could rush to the market and make some quick money.
According to Ikram, this stock is vulnerable to heat and could perish if not sold in time. He is paying Rs 400 per bag for a season (10 months) to the cold storage that takes the cost of production further up. Ikram is hopeful that he would be able to sell his stored potatoes at a good price.
When News Lens Pakistan asked Ikram in a telephonic conversation the reason for the glut of potatoes in the market, he gave a familiar answer: wrong policies of the government. He said that the government was aware of issues farmers were facing due to excess production of potatoes, yet it did nothing to either facilitate the small farmer or create awareness in them about planting alternative crops.
Ikram told News Lens Pakistan that instead of announcing Kissan (Farmer) Package the government should subsidize the input cost by bringing the prices of agricultural products down. He said that electricity, fertilizers, pesticide and diesel, everything were so costly that the farmer was barely surviving especially when the big shots in the agriculture sector could sell their products through personal and political contacts.
According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2014-15, the Agriculture Sector contributes 20.9 percent to the Gross Domestic Product and accounts for 43.5 percent of employment.
The President Pakistan Kissan Ittihad (Farmers’ Alliance) Khalid Mehmood Khokhar backed Ikram’s assertions and said the government should have divided the cultivation land into zones to manage the production of different crops with an eye on the demand side of a particular crop. He said, “Our agricultural products were uncompetitive in the international market due to a high cost of production. We could barely compete with India because of subsidies and facilities the Indian farmer gets from his government.”
Khokar said that the potato crisis was all about the rate that had gone down because of mismanagement by the government.
The farmer community has accused the government of its reactive policies to the situation and its myopic approach to handling prospects.
In an exclusive interview with News Lens Pakistan Director General Agriculture Department Punjab, Anjum Ali said that the country faces price turbulence every year due to farmers’ wrong expectations. He said that in a given year when the farmer gets a good price of, in this case, potatoes, he makes it a benchmark for the following year as well. When due to international mechanism and price fluctuation, the DG says, the farmer fails to fetch the expected price he feels betrayed by the government.
The DG Agriculture further said, “The supply-side of potato could be handled if we enter into value-added products.”
“Value added products and direct marketing are two strategies we need to employ to improve the net profitability of the farmers. We have been planning to produce potato powder, but so far, no tangible step has been taken in that direction. Potato powder is a fast growing industry world over, having it in Pakistan would help us manage the potato glut locally.”
The Board of Investment and the Export Promotion need to work in this regard, said Ali.
However, to manage rates locally, the government has made arrangements to export the surplus potatoes to benefit the farmers.
Muhammad Tariq Khan, Deputy Director (Quarantine) Department of Plant Protection Government of Punjab, shared with News Lens Pakistan the export figures. Starting from February 23, 2016, Pakistan has exported 10, 2704.335-tons potatoes to different countries that includes, UAE (29890.268 ton), Sri Lanka (35852.887), Malaysia (7996.5), Qatar (2665), Bahrain (18259.13), Oman (6193.44), Kuwait (899.7), Maldives (191), Singapore (377), and Somalia (349.575).
In spite of the government’s effort to benefit the farmer, the agriculture community feels betrayed.
The farmer believes that the government has been insensitive to the needs of the small farmers especially in the contemporary world when the competition has soared, and global warming has wrought havoc with the agricultural products.
When asked about the disconnect between the government and the farmer community, Dr. Farrukh Javed Minister for Agriculture, Punjab agreed on the existence of communication gap and told News Lens Pakistan that the government was striving to bridge the distances.
He said that on March 1, 2016, the Chief Minister Punjab has called a conference in Lahore on Agriculture where Agricultural Scientists, Researchers and progressive farmers along with other stakeholders would participate to discuss issues facing the farmers.
The minister agreed that the government should facilitate the farmers and that the cost of production, which is too high, should be brought down.
Dr Qais Aslam, Professor of Economics at the University of Central Punjab, Lahore, however, condemns farmers saying that one, the agriculture sector has been loath to pay taxes; second, they do not take the initiative to improve their lot by introducing the modern technique of farming. He said the government should not interfere in pricing the product and should restrict itself only to giving institutional support to farmers.