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Potato on CM shopping list

Calcutta, March 28: The state government today announced it would, in collaboration with the National Agriculture Federation (Nafed), buy potato from farmers to prevent distress sale of the crop, one of the biggest in recent times.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee held a meeting with agriculture minister Kamal Guha and finance minister Asim Dasgupta and officials of Nafed.

Dasgupta said it was decided that the government would buy 10,000 tonnes of potato through its co-operative agency, Benfed, and a similar quantity would be purchased by Nafed. “We will buy 10,000 tonnes of potato in the first phase through Benfed. We have also released Rs 2 crore to Benfed for the purpose,” he added.

Guha said he would hold another meeting with Dasgupta tomorrow to ensure that Benfed begins its purchase process from Monday. This year, there has been a record production of about 84 lakh tonnes of potato.

According to Dasgupta, the government would buy potato at Rs 2 per kg from the growers and had fixed a target to buy one lakh tonnes of the crop in the next few months.

Agriculture department sources said a distress sale is plaguing the districts where farmers are getting between 80 paisa and 90 paisa per kg of potato. Hundreds of kilograms of the crop are rott- ing in the fields due to lack of space in cold storages.

The finance minister said after the government starts buying the tuber, there would be an effect on the market and it is expected that the farmers will also get a fairer price from other bulk buyers.

“We will start selling the potato we are buying in the markets of Calcutta and the districts. We are also trying to sell the potato to states like Assam and Madhya Pradesh. Attempts are on to export the crop to Sri Lanka and Malaysia,” he said.

Potato is being sold in the open market between Rs 3.50 and Rs 4 per kg and the government is yet to determine the price at which it will sell the crop in the markets.

Sources in Writers’ Buildings said the government’s decision to buy potato on the eve of the panchayat elections is being viewed as an attempt to project itself as a sympathiser of potato cultivators, particularly in Hooghly, Bankura and Burdwan districts.

“In a state where there has been a 84-lakh tonne production of potato, it will be very difficult to prevent a distress sale by buying only 20,000 tonnes or, for that matter, one lakh tonnes of the crop. By the time the government makes up its mind to buy more potato in the next few months, a huge quantity of it will rot,” an official said.

Dasgupta said the government had already begun the process to locate space in the cold storages. Five per cent of cold storage space in the state is reserved for the government.

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