The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Farm policy 'fails' in Left forts

Calcutta, Feb. 14: The government appears to have failed to hardsell its new agriculture policy to farmers, even in traditional Left bastions.

Two years after having insisted in its new farm policy that overemphasis on potato and subsequent gluts had to be stopped to ensure better lives for cultivators across the state, the produce only seems to have gone up.

The 'market-driven' policy, aimed at securing higher returns for farmers, had suggested cultivation of non-traditional or alternative crops. But according to the agriculture department, an additional 50,000 hectares were brought under potato cultivation this year in Hooghly, Burdwan, the Midnapores, South Dinajpur, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri.

This would translate into an additional production of 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes, taking this season's produce to a never-before 90 lakh tonnes.

The state consumes 40-45 lakh tonnes a year.

'The farmers are steadfastly resisting the new policy. They don't want to try anything other than potato. The glut is disturbing. Something has to be done,' said an official.

The farmers' aversion to sunflower, one of the alternatives suggested, probably stems from its flop last year because of late sowing. Farmers at Chandrakona, West Midnapore, had set fire to their sunflower crop to vent frustration.

'Our production target for potato this year was 69.9 lakh tonnes. We had told farmers to substitute potato with other crops like oil seeds, onions, wheat and pulses. However, barring North Dinajpur, Malda and Nadia, where some areas under potato have now been brought under pulses and mustard, the other districts have completely disregarded our advice,' the official added.

Over-production of potato last year led to severe distress sale. In Hooghly, a cold storage official who invested in potato bonds committed suicide after prices crashed.

Farmers of Burdwan and Hooghly ' two CPM strongholds ' have 'totally disregarded' the government's efforts to implement the farm policy.

Agriculture minister Kamal Guha today said: 'A meeting has been called tomorrow with agriculture marketing officials and owners of cold storage chains to discuss the plunging prices.'

Though most of this year's crop is yet to be harvested, the crisis has set in. An official said prevailing potato prices in the field are Rs 60-70 for 50 kg. Despite a bumper crop of 70 lakh tonnes last year, field prices had been around Rs 150.

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