The Union ministry of agriculture has called for a report on the nationwide storage of potatoes and onions, in the backdrop of the rising prices of vegetables. The ministry, in coordination with the ministry of food, keeps checking on the prices of onions, potatoes and tomatoes, as these are considered primary vegetables for consumers.
A report prepared by the National Horticultural Research and Development Foundation said 20-22 million tonnes of potato had been stored in cold storages across the country and about 15 per cent of this had been used. In addition to the storage data, the ministry has also sought data from the ministry of food processing to assess the quantity used in that industry and to ascertain there is no extra storage over and above the requirement of the businesses.
There has been a sharp increase in potato prices, currently Rs 1,150-2,300 per quintal (Rs 11.5-23 per kg), against Rs 510-600 per qtl (Rs 5-6 per kg) in the same period last year. However, market sources said the price may only rise another Rs 4-6 a kg and then remain range-bound, due to consumer buying resistance and decisions to curb use.
Official sources said states have been asked to step up anti-hoarding mechanisms to ‘unlock’ the stored potatoes. Many producers prefer to export instead of selling at home, to make more profit on the produce. States have been advised to introduce market intervention schemes (MIS) where there is a glut-like situation, as was witnessed in Punjab two months earlier. Under an MIS, a state government would procure the surplus and the cost shared equally with the central government, official sources said.
If the situation worsens, the ministry could suggest a minimum export price, to divert the export quantity to the domestic market, sources said.
NHRDF has also prepared a status report on onions. As an experiment, the government has started a railway service called the ‘Horticulture Express’ to transport onions from Nashik in Maharashtra to West Bengal and Bihar, where the production is less but demand is much more. Official sources said transport by train is done within 30 hours, compared to 100 hours by road.
The report says 2.95 million tonnes of onions are in different types of storage in the country and the present arrivals in the markets are from this stored stock. Around five to 10 per cent of the storage has been used till date.
The early kharif crop area in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka is expected to be less in comparison to last year, due to low availability of underground water, stated the report. Sowing of kharif onion has begun but is yet to pick up, as growers were waiting for rain, especially in Maharashtra, the biggest producer. On the other hand, the early kharif crop in the southern states is expected to arrive in the markets from September.