India looks overseas to market bumper potato crop

Monday, 24 February 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Faced with a bumper crop, India hopes to step up potato exports to the Middle East and neighbouring countries to prevent a glut in the domestic market.

India has already set up potato export zones in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh that account for the bulk of the crop grown in India.

The creation of the zones has led to considerable investment flowing in for setting up post harvest handling facilities, better packaging and processing units to support exports of both fresh and processed potatoes, said Anil Swarup, chairman of the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).

Among the top five potato producers including China, Russia, Poland and the U.S., India this year expects to exceed the estimated 18 million tonnes output of 2002 to cross the 23-million-tonne mark.

In Uttar Pradesh, which accounts for 40 percent of the country's production, the yield has been 15 percent higher. With the new crop being harvested, the state government this month announced transport subsidy to push exports and maintain a minimum 2 per kg farm gate rate for growers.

A glut in the past has seen potato prices at the farm gate crash to lower than 50 paise a kg, leading to hardships for farmers, industry sources said.

"The production in the four potato export zones has been around 21.1 million tonnes, with Uttar Pradesh reporting a production of about 10.2 million tonnes, West Bengal 8.5 million tonnes and Punjab and Madhya Pradesh 1.2 million tonnes each," Swarup told IANS.

"Given this scenario, the Uttar Pradesh government is trying to push exports to prevent prices from crashing. A delegation is currently in the UAE to seek export orders."

Indian exports of fresh table variety potatoes have been rising steadily from 11.6 million in 2000-01 to 33.4 million in 2000-01. Last fiscal India also exported 14 million worth seed variety potato to neighbouring countries.

This year APEDA is hopeful of crossing the 50-million mark with the bulk of exports taking place during January-March.

Indian varieties, while more appealing to Asian palettes, have been losing out to European ones because they tend to discolour when processed or used for fast food items like chips.

To meet both overseas and domestic demands, farmers are being encouraged to cultivate newer high yielding varieties of potatoes like Chipsona I and II developed by the research institutes in the country. These varieties have been found ideal for making chips.

Potatoes are also grown in other states like Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and parts of the northeastern region.

"This year our focus will remain on export of fresh potatoes while processing units are being set up. Next year, we hope exports of processed potatoes will commence," said Swarup.

While one processing unit has been set up in West Bengal, another is in the pipeline. In Punjab, a Canadian company is setting up a joint venture while plans for a processing plant are being finalised in Uttar Pradesh.
Source: IANS
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