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Potato Farmers from West Bengal appreciate State Government's assistance but says more needs to be done

In the Hooghly, East Burdwan, Birbhum, West Midnapore, and portions of Murshidabad Assembly polls, the TMC is aiming to reap dividends.

Chintu Das
Potato Farmers
Potato Farmers

Potato farmers in Bengal have been able to keep their produce until they get a decent price thanks to a combination of measures taken by the Mamata Banerjee government. This has prevented them from falling prey to moneylenders or having to resort to panic sales.

The Trinamul Congress is aiming to reap dividends in the Assembly elections in the potato belt of Hooghly, East Burdwan, Birbhum, West Midnapore, and parts of Murshidabad, with major sections of the state's 15 lakh-plus potato farmers accepting government measures such as buying stocks from peasants and issuing Kisan Credit Cards.

Despite the fact that Bengal's cold storages are brimming with potatoes after a bumper harvest, reports have reached the state government that farmers own 70% of these stocks. This ensures that the rest of farmers didn't have to sell their crops to middlemen on the spot.

“This is essential. This indicates that farmers have been persuaded to keep their produce until they can get a decent price in the coming months. Farmers used to feel compelled to sell their crops in desperation during bumper harvests. “Middlemen profited by purchasing potatoes at a low price and marketing them at a higher price by hoarding stocks in cold stores,” a senior state government official explained. Bengal produced 115 lakh tonnes of potatoes this year, compared to an average annual crop of 90 lakh tonnes, according to the agriculture marketing department.

According to a bureaucrat, “if the farmers did not sell their produce at a much lower price considering the excess production, it means that they are now in a stronger financial position.” The governing establishment was initially concerned because the price of potatoes had dropped to Rs 4 per kilo in mid-February, when farmers began harvesting. They were in serious trouble because the cost of processing a kilo of potato was expected to be Rs 5.

The Trinamul government reacted quickly, purchasing 10 lakh tonnes of potatoes at Rs 6 per kilo on February 23 to provide relief to farmers. While Bengal has 15 lakh potato farmers, the tuber supports the livelihoods of around 60 lakh people.

“Since 2009, potato-growing districts like Hooghly, East Burdwan, and Birbhum have become Trinamul strongholds. In a tightly fought war, if the party encounters difficulty in these districts, it would find it difficult to maintain strength. Several government schemes that have been in place for the past ten years seem to be bearing fruit now,” said an agriculture department official.

Kisan Credit Cards, according to department officials, have been instrumental in providing farmers with a sense of protection by allowing them to hang onto their produce until they received a reasonable price. 

“Nearly 80% of potato farmers are now protected by the KCC, which allows them to obtain low-interest farm loans from banks. They are no longer reliant on moneylenders, who charge exorbitant interest rates. This is why they should wait for a better deal,” a source explained.

“In the shop, I have 2 tonnes of potatoes. I think I'll be able to keep the produce for another three months. I hope to be able to sell the produce for Rs 12 to Rs 14 per kilogram. It would be beneficial if the government assisted us in shipping our produce to other states if the price in Bengal is poor. A transportation subsidy will also be beneficial, according to Milan Kumar, a potato farmer from Tarakeswar in Hooghly.

Another official listed the state government's push to prioritize paddy procurement.“When the kharif crop is harvested in early November, we begin procurement. Farmers were able to invest in potatoes without relying on moneylenders because their produce was sold at a much higher price, according to the official. Farmers have a buffer, according to sources, since the Trinamul government raised the paddy procurement goal to 42 lakh tonnes from 15 lakh tonnes during the Left Front's reign. Farmers stated that they had gained from government programs, but that the state could now assist them in selling their product from cold storage facilities.

Trinamul has emphasized the government's attempts to provide financial stability to farmers in Hooghly, East Burdwan, and Birbhum on the campaign trail. “To be sure, the state government has aided us in a variety of ways. However, more cold storages in the potato belt would have been preferable. Rishi Adak, a farmer in Birbhum's Labhpur, said, "The government should think about it."

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised in his election rallies to construct more cold storage facilities in potato-producing districts, Trinamul leaders say they have been working on this for many years.

“In the dry season, if Bengal can store more potatoes, it can represent neighboring states like Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh. Since we lack a proper export policy and storage space, states with better facilities, such as Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, always catch the markets,” an official said.

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