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Potato exports reached an all-time high

potato-2Bangladesh’s potato exports have reached an all-time high, thanks to greater market opportunities in Russia that has banned potato imports from Pakistan over pest risks.

Around 54,000 tonnes of potato had been shipped abroad in the nine months till March of the current fiscal year, up from about 28,500 tonnes in the previous fiscal year, according to the Plant Protection Wing of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).

Potato prices went up in the local market last month following increased exports and stocking of potatoes in cold storages.

It helped many of the country’s seven lakh potato growers narrow down losses they suffered for selling the vegetable below the production cost of around Tk 6 a kilogram, according to an estimate by Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI).

Prices of the most consumed vegetable fell below Tk 2 a kg at farmers’ end in January, and continued to slide.

Pest attacks and release of old stocks from cold storages created a supply glut in the market, causing potato prices to fall.

Frustrated over sliding prices, farmers in many of the northern districts staged protests and dumped their produce on highways.

Ferdousi Begum, general secretary of Bangladesh Potato Exporters Association, said low prices of potato on local market encouraged many traders to look for market opportunities abroad.

Md Ahsan Ullah, quarantine entomologist at the DAE’s Plant Protection Wing, said government initiatives created wider market opportunities for Bangladesh, especially in Russia.

The government’s 20 percent cash incentives to exporters and measures to remove obstacles to shipment also contributed to the rise in potato exports.

“It is a good sign. It gives hope for increasing exports in the coming days,” said BARI Director General Md Rafiqul Islam Mondal.

Increased exports helped potato prices to edge up and offset losses of farmers, he said.

Md Belayet Hossain, chief executive of Global Agro Resources Inc, said, “Our shipments to Russian markets are on the rise mainly because of its ban on potato imports from Pakistan.”

On September 30 last year, Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance slapped the ban on the entry of all agricultural products from Pakistan for inadequate compliance with sanitary rules and procedures by Pakistani exporters.

In February, Russia lifted the ban on Pakistani agricultural produce, except for potatoes, according to reports.

“It appears that exports to Russia will rise, but it depends on ensuring consistent quality in line with the country’s requirements,” said Belayet, who also exports potato to Russia.

Potato exports to Russia might be affected if the ban is lifted, he noted.

The problem is that it takes 11 days for a consignment to reach Russia from Pakistan whereas it takes 39 days in the case of Bangladesh, said Belayet.

Potatoes are now sold at Tk 12 to Tk 14 a kg in retail market in Dhaka, up from Tk 8 to Tk 10 early last month, according to Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.

Potato exports started rising since fiscal 2009-’10, mainly to cater to the demands of Bangladeshi migrants in Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. The vegetable is also exported to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and several other countries.

Bangladesh produces 82 lakh tonnes of potato a year against an annual consumption of 60 to 65 lakh tonnes. Of the total produce, 10 lakh tonnes are used as seed, according to Bangladesh Cold Storage Association.

Report: Sohel Parvez
Source: Daily Star

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