Potatoes from Himachal's cold deserts reap profits
Himachal Pradesh's potatoes, grown in the cold deserts of the Lahaul Valley, have been reaping profits for the growers; farmers are happy that the humble 'aloo' commands a good price this season.
Every year a huge chunk of potatoes, say traders here, finds its way to markets in West Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and northeastern states, where these are used mainly as seeds, for cultivating fresh crops.
In northern India, they are used also as table potato.
"Traders from West Bengal, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have procured the potatoes. Now, it's heading to Maharashtra, where the potato growing season is on," Amar Chand Dogra, managing director of the Lahaul Seed Potato Growers Cooperative Marketing Ltd, told IANS here.
The landlocked picturesque Lahaul Valley in Lahaul-Spiti district is known for producing the country's high variety, disease-free, pest-resistant Kufri Chandramukhi and Kufri Jyoti varieties.
As per state agriculture department estimates, the valley has produced around 35,000 bags of 50 kg each of Kufri Chandramukhi and 150,000 bags of Kufri Jyoti, cultivated on 710 hectares.
Currently, the marketing society is selling a quintal (100 kg) of Kufri Jyoti at around Rs.2,000.
However, the entire stock of Kufri Chandramukhi and 50 percent of Kufri Jyoti has been sold out.
Dogra said though the overall production of the both varieties was slightly less than last year's production, prices are almost double the previous year's.
"A quintal of Kufri Jyoti is fetching between Rs.1,800 and Rs.2,400 depending upon the demand. It's almost double of last year's price. Similarly, Kufri Chandramukhi ranged between Rs.2,000 and Rs.2,200 per 100 kg," he said, adding, "the demand is good both for food and seed".
The state agriculture department has fixed Rs.1,750 per quintal as the procurement price of both varieties from the marketing society, which is one of the country's most successful groups of farmers with a membership of over 2,000.
The society, founded in the early 1960s, handles the marketing of the entire produce of seed potato from the Lahaul Valley in the open market.
After harvesting, which begins in mid-October and lasts for a month, the society transports the entire produce to Manali for grading and marketing.
In the previous year, more than 25 percent of the total yield of Lahaul potatoes was damaged.
"It was a problem of glut and market slump. Even the demand from the country's prominent potato growing states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, which dumped their produce on roads over bad marketing, was poor," said Ishwar Bodh, a Lahaul farmer and member of the society.
He said most of the farmers in the valley are switching to high-value exotic vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli.
The agriculture department says overall cultivation of potatoes in the valley has come down to 710 hectares from 1,700 hectares five to seven years ago.
Scientists at the Shimla-based Central Potato Research Institute say per hectare yield of potatoes, rated the best in the world in quality, ranges from 300 to 400 quintal in the valley. But the area can produce up to 500 quintal per hectare.
The history of cultivating potatoes in the valley goes back to 1854 when missionary A.W. Hide from Germany established a farm near Keylong, the district headquarters town some 350 km from state capital Shimla.
In 1965, the then deputy commissioner of Lahaul, K.S. Bains, brought improved varieties of potato seeds that triggered prosperity in the region.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)