Why UP's Potato Farmers Are Not Looking Forward To Union Budget

A glut across markets in Uttar Pradesh -- India's largest producer of potatoes -- means farmers are being forced to dump potatoes on the roadside.


Potato's are sold at Rs 4 a kg at Barabanki's vegetable market in UP.

Lucknow:  At Barabanki's vegetable market, around 40 km from Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow, the going rate for a kg of potato is Rs 4. Every time a potato trader shouts out the rate, it depresses farmer Surya Pratap Singh, who has spent a week here trying to get better price for his 120 sacks of potato.

A farmer from Ram Nagar, Mr Singh has 1.5 acres of land. He cultivates potato on it every year, but says the last three or four years have been incredibly tough. A glut across markets in Uttar Pradesh -- India's largest producer of potatoes -- means farmers are being forced to dump potatoes on the roadside. The value of their produce is almost zero.

Rs 4 a kg is not even enough to meet Mr Singh's production costs. "Even if I sell at Rs 5 a kg, the profit is just very less. You see transportation costs, charges at the market are also involved," he said.

The farmer said he is also very "skeptical" about what governments can do for them in budget presentations. "Every year we hear of how farmer-centric governments are. Maybe they should come here more often for reality checks," Mr Singh said.

On paper through, the situation for UP's farmers is not bleak. 

A big scheme announced by the Yogi Adityanath government last year, which was in operation till December 31, gave a subsidy of Rs 50 per quintal and also 25 per cent of the transportation cost to potato farmers who wanted to send their produce to areas that would fetch a better price.

But in Barabanki's Chattrapalpur village, marginal farmer Praveen Kumar said he simply has no idea about this scheme. "The biggest problem is that we have no information. You take out schemes but someone should come and inform us about it? There are hundreds of schemes that don't work on the ground," he says. 

The state government claims last year, 13 lakh tonnes or about one-tenth of the produce was sent to more profitable areas.  But here's the catch: Farmers sent just 12,000 tonnes, or 1 per cent, on their own. Middlemen sent the rest of the 12.88 lakh tonnes. 

"There is collusion between officials and other people who act as agents in this entire process. One of our principal demands is that the subsidy should be paid directly into the beneficiary's accounts and that the beneficiary should only be the farmer," said Jayant Chaudhary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, whose party has been holding gatherings of potato farmers across the state to highlight their problems. 

In press notes and official statements, the Uttar Pradesh government says it is concerned about UP's potato farmers and is trying to look into more ways to get them better prices.

Last year, the government said it wrote to the Union agriculture ministry asking them to draw up a policy so potatoes can be transported to states in south and north-eastern India. On July 12, the UP government said it sent a letter to the Chairman of the Railway Board, asking for railway racks to transport potato from Agra to Delhi and beyond.

It is not clear what came of these efforts.

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