Zarif Mahmud: Bangladesh has maintained a self-sufficient position in potato for a long time. Per capita consumption of agricultural produce has increased steadily over the last few years. Use has also increased in the food and feed industry.
However, the demand for the product has not increased as fast as the production or supply.
According to a research report by Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC), the quantity of surplus potatoes in the country has been decreasing since 2017.
If this trend continues, experts fear that the net surplus in potatoes may soon turn into a net deficit. They say that to deal with this situation, it is necessary to take quick steps to increase productivity. Otherwise, there is a strong danger of Bangladesh becoming import-dependent for potatoes.
According to the BARC research data, the net surplus of potato is decreasing every year even as the net demand for potato is increasing consistently. In 2017, the net demand of potatoes in the country was 62 lakh 71 thousand tons. By 2020, it will increase to 68 lakh 17 thousand tons. On the other hand, in 2017, the surplus of potatoes in the country was 13 lakh 85 thousand tons. By 2020 it will come down to 3 lakh 40 thousand tons.
The study was conducted by BARC in collaboration with Bangladesh Agricultural University, Dhaka University, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, Directorate of Agricultural Extension and Bangladesh Cold Storage Association. The study was conducted in the context of market volatility for potato, onion and rice in 2020. The sector stakeholders say that the demand for potatoes in the country is much higher now compared to that time. Again, the amount of surplus is also supposed to decrease a lot. That is why the decision to import potatoes in 2023 has to be made.
Potato was one of the commodities that went through the most price volatility in the country in the year just gone. As the market did not come under control despite various measures, the government allowed the import of potatoes at one stage. Despite this, the price of the product in the market is now almost two and a half times higher than the same period last year.
The BARC study was coordinated by agricultural economist Dr. Jahangir Alam Khan. He told, “Our potato production is a little more than the demand. The use of potatoes as food is constantly increasing. In addition to this, the demand for potatoes is increasing at various stages. Many people think that the information about abundant potato production in the country is not correct. Because there is no opportunity to increase the price by syndication when the supply is abundant. Potato production should be increased to at least 200,000 tonnes per year to avoid possible shortage. Many new varieties have arrived. The faster they expand, the faster the results will be. In addition to ensuring the price of potatoes at the farmer level, the government should also keep a lot of potato stocks.
The annual demand of potato in the country is about 75-80 lakh tons. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), about 25 percent of potatoes produced in the country are wasted due to various causes. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), potato production in the country was 1 crore 4 lakh 31 thousand tons in the last financial year. Before this, 1 crore 1 lakh 44 thousand 835 tons of potatoes were produced in the financial year 2021-22 and 98 lakh 87 thousand 242 tons in the financial year 2020-21. According to the calculations of the stakeholders, about 26-27 lakh tonnes of potatoes are wasted in the country every year if post-production losses are taken into account. As such, the demand and usable part of potato production in the country is almost close.
Per capita consumption of potato in the country is increasing every year. According to BARC data, in 2000, the daily per capita consumption of potatoes in the country was 58 grams. From there it increased to 70.30 grams in 2010. Then by the year 2020 it increased to 76.30 grams. However, according to BBS Food Income-Expenditure Survey 2022, per capita consumption of potato in the country is 69.70 grams.
When asked, former food secretary Abdul Latif Mondal told, ‘Potato is now being used in many ways. Also, population and per capita consumption has increased. As such, the demand for potatoes is constantly increasing. Analyzing the statistics, the production and demand of potato are now almost close. All in all, I think we are heading towards a deficit. We have less land. Increasing the production in one puts pressure on the others. Productivity of all crops should be increased, not just potato. It should be looked at whether the potato land is decreasing due to more profitable crops.
In terms of local production, potato is second only to rice. Potatoes are seen as one of the sources of protein for low-income populations. Apart from this, potatoes are also used extensively in the seed, animal feed, export and processing industries. In 2016, 3.741 thousand tons of potatoes were used as public food, which increased to 4.614 thousand tons in 2020. Its second highest use is as animal feed. In 2016, potato was used as animal feed about 11 lakh 13 thousand tons, which increased to about 11 lakh 49 thousand tons in 2020. And the amount of potato stored as seeds was 10 lakh 42 thousand tons in 2016, which is 10 lakh 6 thousand tons in 2020.
Although the price of potato has increased in the market in the last few months, the farmers have not got any benefit. According to another study by BARC, traders buy potatoes from farmers at very low prices during the production season. In 2023 also at the beginning of the season i.e. in March, farmers sold potatoes at Tk 10-12 per kg. The market started to get volatile in July. On September 14, the maximum retail price of potatoes was set at Tk 35-36 by the Ministry of Commerce after the continuous price increase. Despite this, the government allowed the import of potatoes by the end of October due to rising prices.
Officials associated with market monitoring say that every year potato prices are manipulated mainly at the cold storage stage. Middlemen and Cold storage owners and sellers play a major role in this.
However, denying this allegation, the owners of the cold store blame the publication of wrong information about the production of potatoes. Ishtiaq Ahmed, senior vice president of Bangladesh Cold Storage Association told in this regard, “Maybe the situation has taken such a dire shape because of the wrong information that there has been a bumper crop of potatoes this year.” From the beginning, it has been said from government institutions that 1 crore 12 lakh tons of potatoes have been produced. It was then that we were informed by the organization that the production of potatoes was less this year. So, we have been repeatedly told that the situation could get worse. Our proposal was to conduct a joint survey. Because if anything happens, we are the ones to blame. Apart from this, I have also proposed to keep potato stocks in the government. How potato production is going can be understood by looking at how much is being stored at the freezer stage. This time potato cultivation has been done on more land. Now we can tell at the end of the season how the production is due to weather or seed quality.
Last year, the government took various initiatives for the export of potatoes. Although in the end exports have to be reduced as well as imports. Earlier, Bangladesh exported about 79 thousand tons of potatoes in the fiscal year 2021-22. And in the fiscal year 2022-23 it decreased to 32,392 tons.
In the coming days, potato market will fall into a long-term deficit, the product’s marketing stakeholders are also afraid. When asked about the market situation of the product, the Managing Director (MD) of ACI Agrolink Limited Fahan Ansari said, “Last year, due to high prices of vegetables or other food products, the pressure on potatoes was high at the beginning of the season. Because of that, the consumption of potatoes has increased in the beginning. Another challenging issue this year is that many farmers are picking up small potatoes due to the high price of potatoes. There is a risk of reduced production. 90-day potato farmers are harvesting in 60-65 days. On the one hand, the consumption of potatoes is increasing, but if the production decreases, there may be a shortage in the future. Some high-yielding varieties of potato have been introduced by various government initiatives. But they have not yet expanded that way. It has to be expanded.’
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 4 lakh 41 thousand 171 hectares of land has been planted with potatoes this season. In the meantime, 13 thousand hectares of potatoes have been harvested. As the supply of new potatoes increased in the market, the prices fell slightly from earlier. At present, old and new potatoes are being sold at Tk 65-70 per kg in various markets of the capital.
Badal Chandra Biswas, director general of the Directorate of Agricultural Extension said, “There is not much difference in the production data. In the case of potato, the farmer sold it at Tk 10-12 during the season. But later the price went up a lot. But the farmer did not get the price. The cost of the freezer is not too high. May be a little more or less in terms of production information. It is not the case that there is a market shortage or short supply. Potato production is much higher than demand. But due to the moral lapses of traders, the market has seen instability.
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