Potato growers’ woes

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Frustrated potato growers of Swat

By Tahir Ali Khan

http://www.dawn.com/2011/08/08/frustrated-potato-growers-of-swat.html

WHILE potato growers in upper Swat had not yet recovered from the huge losses caused by the floods and militancy, the dilapidated communication infrastructure in the area is adding to their woes.

Most of the bridges destroyed by last year’s deluge have been temporarily restored but the road from Madyan to Kalam, the potato growing strip, is yet to be rebuilt. This has made transportation of the crop from Kalam and other upper Swat areas difficult, costly and unaffordable for growers.

Officials claimed that the reconstruction work would be finished within a year but the pace of work indicates it may take much longer for the actual completion. If the monsoon this year triggers floods again, access to upper Swat may become impossible.

Shah Abdar, president of model farm services centre, upper Swat, says the hilly cold terrain grows quality potato in abundance. “In areas which are accessible, the commodity fetches handsome returns to the farmers.” he said.

“Large size, good quality and taste are the hallmarks of Swat potato but the middlemen and commission agents reap most of the profits. Average per hectare yield of the crop in KP and the country is 12 and 17 metric tons respectively but it is around 20MT in Swat,” he added.

According to him, Kalam potato farmers had greatly benefited from the support and guidance offered by the Switzerland-funded Kalam integrated development project but communication problems are diminishing its impact.

Tor Gul, another potato farmer from Miandam, Swat, said the seeds-production ratio for potato was up to 1:10. “It means that one sack of potato seeds weighing 90kg produces about 900kg of potato and even more. An acre of potato crop yields around 360 maunds (14MT) in Swat,” he said.

Going by the current market price, an acre’s harvest can fetch up to Rs0.36 million for farmers. In the international market it could fetch $7,000 or Rs0.59mn (average price of $500 per metric ton).

To fetch a good price, the farmers in some areas like Miandam harvest their crop before maturity. However, it too has its related problems. “The potatoes so harvested are small, decay quickly and hence need to be used within weeks but nevertheless provide us the growers good returns. The more the delay, the lesser the price at the market,” says Gul.

Elsewhere overproduction, rather than under production, is the problem.

“Inadequate storage, processing facilities and the manipulation of the market by middlemen results in price volatility as not all excess production can be stored or processed for consumption during the off season. Sometimes there is surplus production that crashes prices at the market hitting the farmers and then there is limited supply that hits the common man with price increase. This can be avoided by proper bulk storage facility, regulated marketing system and efficient delivery of potato in the market,” another farmer Bakht Biland Khan, said.

Limited grading and labelling of the produce, absence of regulated local potato purchase along export facilitation centres and market information system are the other major problems faced by potato growers.

Despite favourable climatic conditions for the three potato crops, KP has a meagre share in countrywide potato yield. Its output was about 0.12 million tons from 10,000 hectares in 2010 against 3.4 million tons from 149,000 hectares in the country.The main potato producing areas in KP are Nowshera, Dir, Mansehra, Upper Swat, Chitral and Mardan. Potato crop is sown both in summer and winter in Swat with seeds obtained from Punjab.

An estimated 20 per cent potato is wasted post harvest primarily due to improper handling and lack of proper cold storage facilities. A survey report by a foreign agency has estimated that about 10 per cent reduction in post-harvest losses cane save Rs6 billion.

Potatoes are sold at around $500 per metric ton in the world market. Despite having export potential worth $1bn, Pakistan’s total potato exports were just $50 million in 2009.

Lack of credit facilities is the main snag for small growers. In some areas of Chitral this year, potato farmers were unable to buy standardised seed from the market as banks denied or delayed credit facilities.

………………

Original text of the article.

Dejected Swat potato growers

 

By Tahir Ali Khan

 

While potato farmers in upper Swat had not yet recovered from massive losses for the impacts of floods and militancy, the dilapidated communication infrastructure in the area is adding to their woes this season once again.

 

Though most of the bridges destroyed by last year’s deluge have been temporarily restored, the road from Madyan to Kalam, the potential potato growing strip, is yet to be rebuilt. This has made transportation of the potato produce from Kalam and other upper Swat areas highly difficult and costly, almost unaffordable for farmers.

 

Officials claim the reconstruction work would finish within a year but the pace and volume of the work suggests it may take three to four years to complete. And if this year’s rainy season triggers floods again, access to upper Swat may virtually come to a standstill.

 

Shah Abdar, the president of model farm services centre upper Swat, says the hilly cold terrain grows abundant quality potato. “In areas which are accessible, the commodity fetches handsome returns to the farmers. In the past, farmers in far off villages would bring their produce to the market using camels and donkeys but that has also become unfeasible as onward transportation from upper Swat is expensive beyond affordability, for transportation charges have quadrupled of late,” he said.

“There is vast potential for the crop. Large size and good taste and quality are the hallmarks of Swat potato but the middlemen and commission agents have reaped most of the profits. Average yield per hectare is 12 and 17 metric tons in KP and the country respectively but is around 20MT in Swat. But, for marketing snags, farmers prefer to grow only for their own needs and avoid commercial farming,” he added.

According to him, Kalam potato farmers had greatly benefited from the support and guidance offered by the Switzerland-funded Kalam integrated development project and farmers but communication problems are diminishing its impact now.

 

Tor Gul, another potato farmer from Miandam Swat, said the seeds-production ratio for potato was up to 1:10. “It means that one sac of potato seeds weighing 90kg produces about 900kg of potato and even beyond. And, an acre of potato crop yields around 360 maunds (14MT) in Swat,” he said.

 

Going by the current market price, it can fetch up to Rs0.36 million for farmers which is a hefty price by any standard.  And in the international market it could fetch $7000 or Rs0.59mn (on the basis of price of $500 per metric ton).

 

To fetch good price, the farmers in some areas like Miandam harvest their crop before maturity. But it too has its related problems.

 

“The potatoes so harvested are small, decay quickly and hence needs to be used within weeks but nevertheless they provide us good returns. The more there is delay, the lesser is the price at the market,” says Tor Gul.

 

Elsewhere overproduction, rather than under production, is the problem.

 

“The combination of inadequate storage and processing facilities and middlemen manoeuvres lead to volatility in prices as not all excess production can be stored or processed for consumption during the off season. Sometimes there is surplus production and supply that crashes prices at the market hitting the farmers and then there is limited supply that hits the common man with price increase. This can be avoided by bulk storage facility, regulated marketing system and efficient delivery of potato in the market,” Bakht Biland Khan, another farmer, said.

 

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general and Swat in particular has not been able to exploit the potato potential. Escalated cost of production, non-availability of quality potato seeds, poor post-harvest handling and lack of value addition and of modern plants of potato by-products in the province are hindering the process.

 

Besides, limited grading and labelling of produce, the absence of regulated local potato purchase centres, potato export facilitation centres and market information system are the other woes of potato growers.

 

Despite being tax-free zone and hub of industries, the lack of potato processing units, one that could produce potato chips or frozen French fries, is amazing to the say the least.

 

A multinational company, according to a report, had agreed to install a potato chips unit in Swat but the facility is no where seen thus far.

 

Despite having favourable climatic conditions for all the three potato crops, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has meagre share in country-wide potato yield. It yielded about 0.12 million tons from 10 thousand hectares in 2010 against 3.4 million tons from 149,000 hectares in the country.

Main potato producing areas in KP are Nowshera, Dir, Mansehra, Upper Swat, Chitral and Mardan. Potato crop is sown both in summer and winter in Swat. Seeds in obtained from Punjab.

An estimated 20% of potato quality is wasted post harvest primarily due to improper handling and lack of proper cold storage facilities.  A survey report by a foreign agency has estimated that about 10 percent reduction in post-harvest losses means savings of Rs6 billion.

 

Potato has large potential for the province and the country. Potatoes are sold at around $500 per metric ton in the global market. Despite having potential of exports worth $1bn, Pakistan’s total potato exports were just $50 million in 2009.

 

The lack of credit facilities are one of the main problems for small farmers. In some areas of Chitral this year, potato farmers were reportedly unable to buy standardised seed from the market for the banks denied or delayed credit facility to them.

The provincial horticulture policy says nonexistence of producers and marketing associations and market committees, non-exploration of new markets, and traditional outdated delivery systems of horticulture produce as the biggest constraints of the sector.

It recommends setting up of agriculture producers markets and market information systems at the district level and urges for quality grades for vegetables and to establish training institute for productivity and quality enhancement with funding from the export development fund.

The government should provide tax holidays for the first five years to encourage processing industries and ensure launch of specials schemes for development of modern horticulture enterprises in private sector in the province.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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