An OST Special
Reported by Chinmaya Dehury/Edited by Sandeep Sahu
Bhubaneswar, Nov 9:
Much as the mandarins of the state government would like us to believe that the current crisis of potato, that must-eat item in every Odia home, is the result of nothing more serious than just a temporary imbalance between ‘demand and supply’, facts speak otherwise.
Just consider the data. According to the data made available by the Civil Supplies department, while Odisha requires 912.859 thousand tonnes of potatoes per year, it produces no more than 201.05 thousand tonnes – a shortfall of 711.854 thousand tonnes which has to be made with imports from outside, primarily the neighbouring state of West Bengal.
The state figures, as in most other things, at the very bottom of the list with a share of no more than 0.48% in the total potato production in the country. To put things in perspective, even states like Assam, Meghalaya and Himachal Pradesh are much ahead of Odisha in potato cultivation.
WHY BENGAL IS BETTER OFF ?
In sharp contrast, West Bengal, where agro climatic conditions are not much different from that in Odisha, is the second largest producer of potato in the country behind Uttar Pradesh with a share of 30% in the total national production of the tuber.The total potato production of the country was 41482.79 thousand tonne with a cultivation area of 1906.97 hectare.
While Odisha cultivated potato in 14.19 hectare in 2011-12 financial year producing 201.05 thousand tones, West Bengal had 376.75 ha under potato cultivation and produced 9639.33 thousand tone in the same year, reveals data available with the National Horticulture Board.
Interestingly, potato production in Odisha actually fell in 2011-12 marginally to 201.05 thousand tonnes from 201.63 thousand tonnes the previous year despite an increase in the cultivated area from 14.13 hectare in 2010-11 to 14.19 hectares.
Now let us see how West Bengal has fared over the years. Potato production in the state jumped from just 54 lakh tons in 2009-10 to a whopping 99 lakh tons in 2010-11.
APATHY & LACK OF FORESIGHT
The contrast could not have been starker. The figures make it clear that while production of West Bengal has zoomed phenomenally over the years, it has remained stagnant or has gone down in Odisha – a reflection not so much of the efficiency of the farmer, but of the gross apathy of the state government towards growing of this mandatory item in the menu of every Odia household.
“Crop planning should be made based on 10 agro-climatic parameters to reduce the degree of instability in production of potato in the state,” said an official in the horticultural department.
Instability in potato production is observed in most of the districts in Odisha, he said adding Puri, Cuttack, Kandhamal, Baleswar and Sambalpur are the major potato growing districts in the state.
But farmers’ bodies lay the blame for the sorry state of affairs squarely on the horticulture department. “The quantity of potato grown in our state is grossly inadequate to meet the requirement. We don’t have the land holding capacity in comparison to neighbouring West Bengal. Besides, the Horticulture department is not providing high quality seeds and irrigation facilities to increase the acreage and production,” said Sunil Mohapatra, programme coordinator of Krushi Vigyan Kendra, Keonjhar.
Blaming the government for failing to provide potatoes to the people, Sudhakar Panda, secretary of Odisha Byabasayee Sangha said the state is facing such situation due to its lack of vision and foresight. “Had the government promoted production of potato in the state, the people would not have faced such situation,” said Panda.
SKEWED DEMAND-SUPPLY RATIO
Crop planning, however, is just one part of the problem. The other reasons for the skewed demand-supply ratio for potato are the lack of adequate marketing support and cold storage facilities. The state has no more than 20 cold storages, which are a vital requirement to preserve this highly perishable commodity.
Farmers’ bodies blame the state’s near-total dependence on imports to meet its demand for potatoes on the gross apathy of the present government towards the agriculture sector.
FARMERS & AGRICULTURE : BOTTOM OF AGENDA
“In the 13 years that it has been in power, all that the the BJD government has done was to sign memorandums of understandings (MoUs) with industries and mining companies, besides offering Re 1 a kg rice rather than enhancing food production in the state,” said Amiya Kumar Patnaik, president of Odisha Congress farmers’ wing.
After all-round criticism about the neglect sector, the government made a big show of presenting a separate agriculture budget last year, claiming that Odisha was only the second state after Karnataka to do with in an effort to change its pro-industry and anti-farmer credentials. But it does not appear to have to done much to revive agriculture in the state.
Traders too put the blame on the state government for the current crisis which has seen potato sell at an incredible Rs 50-60 a kg before simply vanishing from the market in the last two days.