For 30 years, UP’s potato growers await vodka tonic for their woes

LUCKNOW: Even as woes of potato farmers spill over onto the streets, literally, with the state capital seeing tonnes of potatoes being dumped near Vidhan Bhawan on Saturday, proposals to set up vodka-brewing factories in the potato-rich areas in UP—the country’s largest potato-growing state—are fermenting for close to three decades now.
While the police are yet to ascertain who dumped potatoes as a mark of protest, old timers recalled a promise made by then chief minister Narain Dutt Tiwari when he visited Farrukhabad in 1989 to set up a vodka-brewing plant to use the excess potato so that farmers are not hit by a glut. The plan never took shape.

In 2015, then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had announced at a programme that least one vodka brewing factory would be set up in Kannauj and Farukkhabad districts each, which will ensure remunerative prices to farmers.

While Akhilesh has represented Kannauj in Lok Sabha for two terms, his wife Dimple Yadav is serving her second term from the same constituency. Kannauj is part of UP’s potato belt, along with Farrukahabad, Etawah, Mainpuri and Aligarh, stretching up to Meerut.

With 31% production, UP is the largest producer of potato in the country and more than 8 lakh farmers plant potato every year, with production increasing every year.

UP produces nearly 46 lakh million tonnes of potato a year in nearly 5 lakh hectares of area. Farmers, however, have no other platform except local mandis to sell their produce and trade some portion outside the state.

Demonetisation and souring relationship with Pakistan have further dealt a blow to potato growers who were earlier able to get cash in hand by trading it off to other states and Pakistan.

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Unlike the adjoining states of Punjab and Haryana and far off Gujarat and Maharashstra, Uttar Pradesh does not have major food processing units to process.

This leads to distress selling by growers in local markets at low prices and frequently dump produce on streets in anguish.

Official records of the horticulture department reveal that the food processing industry in Uttar Pradesh is at the bottom as compared to any other state.

“While potato prices have touched an all-time low in the past two years, there was none to educate farmers to shift to other cash crops.

 

Glut in the market in the past two years has resulted in farmers getting into distress,” said RK Singh, senior scientist at Central Institute of Potato Research, Shimla.

 
“Farm crisis would not be solved unless the state government makes efforts for a food processing industry. Unfortunately, it has not developed in the state,” said SK Shukla, principal scientist at the Central Institute of Subtropical Horticulture in Lucknow.

Potato growers keep their produce dumped in cold storages for months as they cannot even afford the rent.

“If we collect the potato from cold storage and take it to the market, it would cost us Rs 30 a kg while potato is already available at Rs 5 to Rs 10 a kg in the market. This does not make economic sense,” said Naresh Dixit, a regular potato grower in Unnao.

 

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