Calcutta, Jan. 15: The government is exploring the possibility of exporting potatoes to Southeast Asian countries as expectations of a bumper crop have raised the spectre of distress sale.
The government will be unable to send wagon-loads of potatoes to Madhya Pradesh like last year as the yield has been good across the country. This year a yield of 88 lakh tonnes is expected in the state against last year’s 76 lakh tonnes. The crop will be harvested between February and March.
Agriculture marketing minister Chhaya Ghosh said at Writers’ Buildings she will meet finance minister Asim Dasgupta tomorrow to discuss the possibility of exporting potatoes to neighbour Sri Lanka, and Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand.
The expected potato glut has also led the government to think about innovative ideas to encourage purchase of potato by the masses.
Ghosh said a meeting will be held with doctors in Bengal to find out whether it was possible to reduce the diabetes-paranoia linked to the tuber. “If the doctors give the potato a clean chit, we can launch a buy-more-potato campaign,” she added.
Experts in the agriculture department expressed doubts about the success of the export mission. They said the local potato was rich in moisture content and thus not suitable for commercial purposes like manufacturing chips and flakes. “The Jyoti and Chandramukhi variety of potato can only be had cooked and is not suitable for making chips and flakes in countries like Sri Lanka and Malaysia,” an official said.
Aware of this, the government has set up an expert committee, including officials from the commerce and industry, agriculture, food processing and agriculture marketing departments, to chalk up a programme to phase out the Jyoti and Chandramukhi varieties and bring in the more “dry” Chipsona 1 and Chipsona 2 varieties.
Cultivation of these two varieties of the tuber were taken up on an experimental basis a year ago after McKinsey, the global consultants, recommended that crops like potato could be used for food-processing industries in Bengal, where products like chips, flakes and potato powder have a tremendous prospect.
McKinsey had predicted in a survey report a few months ago that Bengal could become an agricultural powerhouse if crops like potato could be utilised in the food-processing sector.
“The expert committee will take a decision on whether we will continue with the present potato seeds or sow something else for the benefit of farmers,” said Ghosh. The chief minister had assured in the last Cabinet meeting that he would try to prevent distress sale of potato.