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Hot potato, wait for Lima lessons

Bhubaneswar, May 9: Potato crisis looms large in the state this year, but without setting the basics right at home two bureaucrats (none of them scientists) are set to embark on a tuber trip to the Latin American nation of Peru tomorrow.

Director (horticulture) and secretary (agriculture) will be making the costly trip to Peru to get hands-on experience on how various types of potato seeds are produced and examine whether some of those can be grown in Odisha.

Director (horticulture) Sanjeev Chadha said: “We will go and see how they produce various types of potato seeds and whether these seeds are suitable for cultivation here. The first-hand learning will be of great help to our state.”

On being asked why scientists were not there in the team, Chadha said: “That would have been a costly affair. We will talk to the scientists who are working at the International Potato Centre there.”

By the time the officials return from Lima, the capital of Peru and home to the International Potato Centre, the price of the tuber would have played havoc with the homemakers’ monthly budget as traders here see the cost of a kilo of the produce crossing the Rs 20 mark.

For the state to benefit from the learnings of the Lima trip it will take a while, but what traders need here is basic infrastructure such as more cold chains. The crisis that looms large in the state this year is because the government has failed to learn from its past experience and initiate steps to increase potato production. The shortage of cold storages has only aggravated the crisis.

Initial signs of the crisis are already there to be read if the steady rise of potato price is any pointer. The produce that was being sold for Rs 12 a kilo barely two weeks ago is hovering around Rs 17 to 20 per kg in the local market.

“Today I bought it for Rs 18 for a kg, but traders said that the price would shoot up in the coming days,” said Mitanjanli Pradhan, a teacher.

Food supplies and consumer welfare secretary Madhu Sundan Padhi said: “Because of the ongoing election process in Bengal, there is a drop in supply of potato to the state. The situation will improve shortly. We are monitoring movement of the potatoes-laden trucks.”

While state’s requirement is nearly 9 lakh tonnes per annum, the state is only producing 1.98 lakh metric tonnes of potatoes.

“Keeping in mind the huge need, we are procuring potatoes from different places,” said Padhi. He added that he was not in a position to say why the state failed to produce the required amount of potatoes in the state.

While Padhi is unaware for the reason for poor production of potatoes, the state government’s mission to Lima is also about finding out ways to have greater produce.

The team will also study how sweet potatoes can be produced in a more organised way.

“Scientists of the International Potato Centre are working here in Dhenkanal, Koraput, Ganjam and Kandhamal districts. We are taking along with us their feedback for submission at the international centre,” Chadha said.

In the state, cultivation of the high-yielding varieties of potato is done at Lamtaput in Koraput and in other districts such as Boudh, Balangir and Angul. While the state failed to increase its production level, Bengal is producing 107 lakh tonnes, Bihar 61.04 lakh tonnes, Assam 7.83 lakh tonnes and Jharkhand 6.52 lakh tonnes of potatoes.

“If the production level is taken to a level of 6-7 lakh tonnes a year then there would be no scarcity situation of potato in the state,” said an official.

A few officials also pointed out that the situation could be improved if enough cold chains were built to store potatoes in advance. The state has only 15 government-run cold storages. While six cold storages are being operated under cooperation department, the horticulture directorate runs five such units. Four others are operational under the state-run Agriculture Promotion and Investment Corporation Limited.

An official in the agriculture department said the provision of capital investment subsidy of 60 per cent for upto 5,000-tonne capacity cold storages would be made in general area and 75 per cent subsidy for scheduled areas

“While a cold storage is under construction with the assistance from the horticulture directorate, there is a proposal to build three more units through State Agro Industries Corporation,” the official added.

To create more space, low-cost cold storages would be constructed at 183 places across the state.