Mohammad Alamgir, a six-acre potato grower from Khandauli near Agra, is angry with Asaduddin Owaisi. Not because his party the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is fighting the coming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. It has, instead, to do with the party lending support to the ruling dispensation in Telangana, which has “banned” import of potatoes from UP.
“How can he (Owaisi) campaign here, while backing a government (of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi) that has blocked entry of our potatoes there (in Telangana)?” asks Alamgir, who is also general secretary of the Aloo Utpadak Kisan Samiti in Agra. Alamgir estimates that about 100 trucks, each loaded with some 500 50-kg bags of potatoes, go from UP to Telangana every day. Out of that, 50-60 trucks are from Agra alone. Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu together account for roughly three-fourths of the 700-800 trucks going daily from UP to various states.
Telangana’s Agriculture Minister S Niranjan Reddy has defended his government’s move. “The potatoes now coming from UP are the produce of last year, kept in cold stores. Why should we consume this when freshly harvested potatoes grown in Telangana are arriving at the Rythu Bazar vegetable markets here?” he asked.
UP farmers sow potatoes from mid-October to early-November and harvest it by February 20- March 10. They typically sell only around a fifth of the crop during the harvest time and deposit the remaining produce in cold stores for making staggered sales till November-end. That is when fresh potatoes-grown in states such as Himachal Pradesh (mainly Una district), Punjab (the Doaba belt), Karnataka (Hassan, Kolar and Chikkaballapur), Maharashtra (Manchar) and even UP (Farrukhabad and Kannauj) – also hit the market. This crop, of lesser 60-75 days duration, is not amenable to storing at 2-4 degrees Celsius for 9-10 months.
“Last year, we had a bumper crop due to which 4-5% of the total produce (working out to 50- 60 lakh bags) is still lying in our cold stores. If Telangana and others stop buying, we would have to throw these on the road, in order to make space for the new potatoes that farmers will bring from late-February,” says Doongar Singh Chaudhary, owner of Vaidyaji Sheetgrah Pvt. Ltd, a cold store in Khandauli.
Telangana is seeking to promote extensive cultivation of potato, as part of its crop diversification plans. The state has become India’s second largest contributor of paddy to the Central pool after Punjab, with procurement soaring from a mere 23.57 lakh tonnes in 2015-16 to 141.09 lakh tonnes in the 2020 21 marketing season (October September). Telangana is also India’s third biggest cotton producer (after Maharashtra and Gujarat), topping in procurement by the Cotton Corporation of India.
Telangana is currently. producing potatoes in 3,500 4,000 acres, mainly in the Zaheerabad area of Sangareddy district. “Our state is most suitable for growing potatoes, particularly after the irrigation projects we have undertaken.. There is scope to increase the area to one lakh acres or more, which will, no doubt, take some time. We are targeting production and marketing of fresh potatoes that can be consumed within 4-5 days of harvest. When there is demand for freshly grown produce, why depend on cold stores in Agra,” says Niranjan Reddy. That is clearly not good news for UP potato farmers and cold store owners like Alamgir and Chaudhary.