Blight, unrest plague potato
Published: 2014-01-14 20:46:58.0 BdST Updated: 2014-01-19 19:50:15.0 BdST
The new year has turned out not-so-pleasant for potato farmers in Bangladesh.
Blight and political unrest have already taken their toll on the potato trade and now a fall in prices has added to farmers’ woes.
Blight, a devastating disease for potato, is caused by Phytophthora infestans. It causes withering and shrivelling without rotting.
“I sold potato at Tk 3 (per kg) last week – half the production cost,” said a frustrated Ishtiaq Ahmed, a potato farmer in Nilphamari in northern Bangladesh.
The Rangpur Division is the single largest producer of potato in the country.
Ahmed said blight had slashed production drastically and relentless political violence by the BNP and its allies had badly hit transportation of the produce to the market. As a result, farmers have incurred huge losses this season.
During the same period last year, he said, potato price was double at Tk 7-8 a kg.
Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University’s Associate Professor Abdullahil Baque said blight is caused by phytophthora infestans if humidity rises in winter.
The disease turns into an epidemic within 48 hours, killing the plants ultimately. Anti-fungal spray at an interval of every four days helps prevent the disease, Baque said.
Blight had caused famines in several European countries in 1840 where potato was a staple food.
Ahmed said the potato plants on his fields were dying with medicinal sprays advised by agricultural officers proving to be of little help.
However, another farmer from Nilphamari, Harshbardhan Roy, was lucky to save his crop by heeding the officers’ advice but felt frustrated at the low price of potato.
Roy said he could sell his produce at Tk 4-5 per kg on Monday.
Deputy Director of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) Rafiqul Islam said blight had plagued several northern districts of Bangladesh.
He said agricultural officers had been directed to brief the farmers on ways to prevent the disease and protect the crop.
Islam said the spread of blight had been arrested with farmers applying the medicine they prescribed.
He added the disease had triggered panic among the farmers, egging them on to harvest their crops around the same time.
However, he said, the piling harvest remained confined to the region because transport blockades made export to other districts impossible and forced down the prices.
Professor Baque also echoed Islam. “The production of each kg potato cost at least Tk 6 this season but the farmers could only sell them at half the price.”
He said the reason for the plummeting price was simultaneous harvesting and political unrest.
Baque said the potato could not be sent to other districts due to a transport crisis caused by shutdowns and blockades.
He urged the government to procure potato at a specific rate and preserve them in local cold storages to save the farmers.
According to the DAE, potato production target was 8.65 million tons this season on 440,000 hectares of land. But potato had been cultivated on a total of 448,000 hectares.
Last year, more than 8.6 million ton of potato was produced on 444,000 hectares.
(bdnews24.com Nilphamari Correspondent Bijoy Chakrabarty Kajol contributed to this report)
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