New Delhi: After the prices of onions reached tear-inducing levels, potatoes prices have now skyrocketed, with the average retail price across the country hovering around Rs 45 per kg. Lack of adequate cold storage facilities and the effects of the pandemic-induced lockdown have contributed to the soaring prices.
To alleviate the shortage of potatoes, the Centre has issued directions to authorities concerned to import potatoes from Bhutan, The Times of India has reported.
“Some 30,000 tonnes of potato will start arriving from Bhutan in the next few days,” Union food and consumer and affairs minister, Piyush Goyal, has been quoted as saying by the Indian Express.
Accordingly, the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) issued an order on Friday allowing unhindered import of potatoes from Bhutan until January 31, 2021. The government estimates that about 10 lakh tonnes of potatoes would be imported by the end of January next year.
The data of the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution has shown that the all-India monthly average of the retail price of potatoes in October this year has risen to Rs 39.30 per kg, the highest it has touched in the last 130 months. In fact, it is double that of October 2019 price, when the tuber was retailed at Rs 20.57 per kg.
Although retail prices of potatoes are generally higher during the months of September and November, the prices began to rise steadily during the lockdown in late March, April and May. The average price of the tuber during the months of February and March was about Rs 23 per kg.
Inadequate cold storage units
One of the primary reasons for the price rise is inadequate cold storage facilitates across the country. According to the data of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, potatoes in cold storage available this year have been around 214.25 lakh tonnes as against the 238.50 lakh tonnes in 2018-19.
Despite the fact that a report of the Ministry of Agriculture has sounded an alarm earlier this year about the potential rise in the prices of potatoes following lockdown, nothing has been done to mitigate the current situation.
“In view of lesser storage, there may be a possibility of rise in prices once the lockdown fully lifts, and especially in the coming months,” the Ministry had said in a report.
According to another account, cold storage units across the country have stocked only about 36 crore bags (of 50 kg each) of potatoes from the rabi crop as against 48 crore bags of tuber stocked in 2019, 46 crore bags in 2018, and a record-level of 57 crore bags of potatoes in 2017.
Meanwhile, it appears that the situation is not likely to improve in the months to come. Uttar Pradesh, which accounts for 27% of the potato crop, is expected to see less crop area for potatoes this year owing to higher seed prices of potato. Compared to earlier Rs 18-22 per kg of potato seeds, currently, the price has gone up to Rs 60-70 per kg.
As for onions, a kilogram is being currently retailed at around Rs 65 in different parts of the country. To augment the shortage borne out of recent heavy rains that damaged onion crop and hit the supply chain, onions are being imported from Turkey, Egypt and Afghanistan. Around 7,000 tonnes of onions have already been imported by various market players, and another 25,000 tonnes are expected to arrive before Diwali. The government is not directly involved in the import of onions.