Himachal’s seed potatoes selling like hot cakes

Manali, Nov 30 (Inditop.com) Falling production of potatoes in other parts of the country this year has proved to be a windfall for farmers of Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh, trade representatives say.

The landlocked Lahaul valley is known for producing disease-free seed potatoes with a major chunk of the crop being procured by potato-growing states like West Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka. This time, a large number of traders, especially from northern India, have also begun procuring the Lahaul potatoes for consumption purposes.

“There is hardly any difference in taste and quality between seed and table potatoes,” state agriculture deputy director J.S. Chauhan told Inditop, attributing the rise in demand to the overall decline in production in the country.

According to him, farmers from West Bengal, Bihar and Karnataka prefer to buy seed potatoes from Lahaul as the region is a virus-free zone due to the high altitude and absence of rain in summer.

But this time, said Nawang Bodh, managing director of the Manali-based Lahaul Seed Potato Growers Cooperative that is run by farmers, traders from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh too have started procuring Lahaul potatoes for consumption.

Earlier, the bulk of the produce went for seed purposes only.

“Potatoes are fetching record prices, between Rs.2,000 and Rs.2,400 per quintal, which is almost double last year’s rates,” Bodh told Inditop.

Echoed Ramesh Negi, a Lahaul farmer: “At present, potatoes are in demand. We got Rs.2,200 per bag for the Kufri Jyoti variety, whereas it was less than Rs.1,000 last year”

Lahaul Valley is known for producing pest-resistant Kufri Chandramukhi and Kufri Jyoti varieties.

However, adverse weather conditions have not spared the valley.

“Like other parts of the country, production of potatoes has declined by 17 to 18 percent this season as compared to last year,” Chauhan said.

Total production of potato has fallen to around 116,000 bags of 80 kilograms each, considerably less than last year’s 140,000 bags, he said.

Bodh said West Bengal was the major buyer of the seed potato.

“The Bengal government has procured 10,000 bags of seed potato for propagation as the crop there has declined massively due to a late blight disease,” he said.

Hari Singh and Thakur, a leading potato dealership firm here, has sold around 30,000 bags so far.

A large number of outstation traders have been camping in this town to procure potatoes.

Said Gurnam Singh, a trader from Jalandhar in Punjab: “We are procuring 100 to 200 bags daily.”

The economy of this tribal district is highly dependent on the potato business, with around 2,000 farmers cultivating it over 900 hectares.

Other cash crops in the district are peas, cauliflower and hops, besides fruit crops like apple, pear, apricot, almond and plum.