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The potato farmers in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s top potato producer, are facing the problem of plenty with bumper production over the past successive years resulting in market glut, thus depressing retail prices and squeezing margins. The low returns had prompted the potato farmers to dump trolleys of unsold stock near the UP Vidhan Sabha and some other VIP localities recently to register protest and seek the attention of chief minster Yogi Adityanath to their distress. Last year (2016-17), UP potato output had stood at over 15 million tonnes (MT), which is further estimated to rise to about 16 MT during 2017-18. Potato output during 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 had stood at over 12 MT, 13 MT, 12 MT, 13 MT and 14 MT respectively. The problems facing the potato farmers have been manifold including higher supply than retail demand, inadequate warehousing facilities, non-existent potato-based food processing industry, delayed government procurement etc. After the farmers had dumped potato in the Lucknow high security zones in the wee hours of Saturday (Jan 6), Yogi had, while addressing a public meeting at Meerut, had said the government was seized of their problems and that the minimum support price of potato (Rs 487 per quintal) would be increased if required. Now, taking cognisance of the distress among potato growers, the Yogi government has now constituted a high level committee headed by deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya and comprising agriculture, forest and finance ministers to study the issue in detail and submit a report in the next 15 days for providing succour to potato growers. UP power minister and spokesperson Shrikant Sharma said here last night the government was aware of the problems being faced by potato farmers, especially since the new crop would soon hit the market. The state potato area is estimated at about 6,50,000 hectares. The Yogi government was the first dispensation to announce MSP for potato and undertake government procurement.
However, due to stringent norms, the procurement was riddled with challenges and against the total production of over 15 MT, the procurement stood at less than 13,000 tonnes against the target of 1,00,000 tonnes.Following the dumping of potato in Lucknow, the opposition parties had attacked the Yogi government for purportedly neglecting farmers. Sharma noted the parties who were actually responsible for the dire situations being faced by the farmers were pointing fingers at the dispensation, which had been working towards doubling the farmers’ income. He listed the various pro-farmer initiatives of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government at the Centre and state, including crop loan waiver, procurement of paddy and wheat, neem-coated urea, irrigation facilities, soil health card, crop insurance scheme etc. In fact, a plan to produce vodka from potato in UP has been lying in the dumps for the past several years. The previous Akhilesh Yadav government had proposed to set up such industries in the potato growing belts of Kannauj and Farrukhabad. However, the plan never took off. The Akhilesh government had even proposed UP Potato Development Policy, 2014 apart from setting up a centre of excellence for potato and providing easy credit to farmers. It was proposed to convert mandis in potato belts to ‘potato mandis’ and organise buyer-seller meets in other states to facilitate trade. Besides, there was also proposal to ramp up warehousing capacity by over 1.8 MT under Private Entrepreneur Guarantee (PEG) Scheme, 2008, under which UP State Warehousing Corporation (UPSWC) was targetting to set up warehousing capacity of almost 1.67 MT, followed by the Food Corporation of India and Central Warehousing Corporation at 1.85 MT and 6,500 tonnes, respectively. At present, there are about 1,700 cold storages in the state with a combined capacity of about 14 MT.