Saturday, October 31, 1998
Conundrum of potato price spiral and glut
By Prem Singh Dahiya
OF late the vegetable prices have hit the roof pricing out the poor and lower middle class consumers. Even people belonging to the upper strata of society have been constrained to reduce the consumption of the costly vegetables. Amongst the vegetables, while the onion prices have scaled the dizzy height of Rs 50-60 per kg, potato prices have not lagged far behind in touching Rs 16-20 per kg in certain markets. But that is not the cases always.
Cogeneration through bagasse
Conundrum of potato price spiral and
OF late the vegetable prices have hit the roof pricing out the poor and lower middle class consumers. Even people belonging to the upper strata of society have been constrained to reduce the consumption of the costly vegetables. Amongst the vegetables, while the onion prices have scaled the dizzy height of Rs 50-60 per kg, potato prices have not lagged far behind in touching Rs 16-20 per kg in certain markets. But that is not the cases always. Only last year, the country experienced an unprecedented glut and price crash in potato causing a severe setback to the economy of the potato growers in India. Contextually we are concerned to delve deep into the conundrum of potato price spirals and gluts with a view to suggesting a package of measures for the farmers and the policy planners in the interests of the growers and consumers alike.
A critical look at the changing potato economy in recent years indicates that the potato prices are subjected to regular cyclical fluctuations, often to a sharp degree. The wholesale potato prices in the major terminal markets and primary wholesale markets registered a sharp increase during 1995 and 1996. During 1995, Delhi showed an increase of 66 per cent in the annual wholesale price over the previous year followed by Chennai (34.9 per cent), Mumbai (30.9 per cent) and Calcutta (30.8 per cent) in descending order. Again during 1996, Calcutta reported 28.7 per cent price increase over the 1995 level followed by Chennai and Mumbai (23.2 per cent) and Delhi (7.5 per cent). The major primary wholesale markets showed similar trends. During 1995, Lucknow registered 55.8 per cent increase in price over the previous year followed by Patna (48 per cent), Karnal (28.7 per cent) and Jalandhar (24.8 per cent). However, the price rise in these markets located in producing areas ranged from 5.4 to 24.9 per cent during 1996. The rise in potato prices during these years was mainly attributed to the double-digit inflation rate and substitution effect due to a very sharp increase in the prices of pulses.
Potato is cultivated by all categories of farmers. It is reported that in Farrukhabad (UP) 71 per cent potato growers fall in the category of marginal and small farmers while 28 per cent and 1 per cent belong to the medium and large categories, respectively. In Himachal Pradesh also, the small land-holders account for 62 per cent of the potato growers and only 36 per cent and 2 per cent belong to the medium and large categories. The cost of cultivation for this capital and labour-intensive crop ranges from Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 per hectare. The economic stimulus provided by incentive and remunerative prices triggers a positive supply response.
In this perspective, during 1996-97, the growers allocated 17.9 per cent more area under potato cultivation and given the conducive and favourable growing conditions potato production registered a revolutionary stride by attaining an output of 25 million tonnes. This amounted to 33 per cent upsurge in the output in a single year, which had never been the case since the introduction of potato in India during the 17th century. The consequences on the marketing and price fronts were quite appalling since the potato prices touched rockbottom levels, particularly when the heavy arrivals with effect from April, 1997, caught all concerned unawares, as it were. The annual wholesale prices fell sharply in Calcutta by 45.4 per cent, Chennai 33.4 per cent, Mumbai 37.3 per cent, Karnal 50.6 per cent, Lucknow 37.8 per cent and Patna 48.4 per cent. About one million tonnes of potato was reportedly destroyed in the cold storages or otherwise since the commodity went abegging even at throwaway prices.
The potato crop was attacked by the late blight disease during 1997-98 season on a wider scale. In particular, the Indo-Gangetic region comprising Bihar, UP, West Bengal, Punjab and Haryana, which accounts for about 78 per cent potato area and 87 per cent of production, bore the brunt of this devastating disease. The main crop in Punjab is grown during autumn and hence the potato crop escaped the wrath of the late blight attack. In West Bengal also, the disease attack was estimated to be mild in nature. But in Uttar Pradesh, where cloudy and foggy conditions prevailed, 75 to 80 per cent of the area was affected by the disease resulting in an estimated loss of 40.3 per cent of production. Moreover, due to the negative supply response caused by the price crash in 1997, the potato farmers allocated 17.8 per cent less area for this crop. UP reported 6.4 million tonnes of output during 1997-98 as against 108 million tonnes during the previous year. The yield per hectare went down from 22.2 tonnes to 16.1 tonnes. Bihar also registered 30 to 40 per cent loss in output. The farmers allotted 20.5 per cent less area for the potato crop and output was drastically low (48.8 per cent over the previous year) with 35.6 per cent decrease in the yield per hectare. West Bengal, another significant potato producing state, had a similar dismal experience when the area, production and yield of potato showed downward trend by 19.9 per cent, 40.9 per cent and 11.4 per cent, respectively. The corresponding figures for Haryana were 5.2 per cent, 34.8 per cent and 31.2 per cent, while Punjab reported a slight increase in area (4.3 per cent), the output and yield registered decline by 8.1 per cent and 11.9 per cent, respectively. At the aggregated level for the Indo-Gangetic region, the potato area declined significantly by 18.1 per cent, thanks to the glut and price crash situation in 1997 and output decreased by 37.5 per cent due to the combined effect of a severe late blight attack and decrease in area with a concomitant low yield of 16.3 t/ha as against 21.4 t/ha obtained during 1996-97.
December to March is the peak arrival period for potato. During December, 1997, to February, 1998, the potato prices showed significant decline, particularly during December and January in all the major terminal markets and primary wholesale markets. During December, the price fall was in the range of 39.1 per cent in Chennai market to 72.2 per cent in Calcutta. As for the primary wholesale markets, the prices declined by 34.6 per cent in Patna to 50.8 per cent in Kanpur. The prices showed a declining trend during January and February, 1998, in these markets even though the decline was to a lesser extent. This indicated the laggard effect of the previous bumper crop. The early crop was reasonably good and lack of proper estimation of the loss due to late blight attack on the crop. When the arrivals showed a declining trend in March and April, 1998, and it was found that the output was down by about 40 per cent in the Indo-Gangetic region, the prices shot up. The primary wholesale markets of Kanpur, Lucknow and Patna recorded over 100 per cent price increase in March, 1998, over the previous year while during April, 1998, the price increase in those markets was to the tune of 339 per cent, 278 per cent and 197 per cent, respectively. The Calcutta market also showed sympathetic trend with 218 per cent increase in price. The price spiral has continued unabated in the country.
All the potato growing areas in the country did not experience the incidence of late blight attack and even the severity of the attack in the Indo-Gangetic region was varying in nature. It may be taken that the potato output during 1997-98 fell by about 30 per cent nationally over the record level of 25 million tonnes achieved in 1996-97. In other words, the 1997-98 output touched the level of 17.5 million tonnes being at par with the 1994-95 estimated output 17.4 million tonnes. If so the unprecedented rise in potato prices in recent months may be attributed to some extent to the speculative elements and hoarding of potatoes by the intermediaries. The market has really been rigged.
Cogeneration through bagasse
WHILE crushing sugarcane in the mills a large amount of bagasse is obtained which is normally treated as a waste material and disposed of with considerable effort and expenditure. In the mode discussed here, it is burnt efficiently to produce steam which runs turbines to generate electricity. This mode is called cogeneration.
This mode has been termed as eco-friendly, renewable and carbon dioxide (CO2) neutral as it is presumed that this does not contribute to the green house effect as the amount of CO2 produced is not greater than what would be obtained if the bio-mass was allowed to rot or burnt by farmers in the fields or for producing gur.
In this mode, the energy available in the exhaust of the steam turbines could be reclaimed by adoption of an improved energy cycle and can be deployed for generation of electricity.
This will not only prove as cure to the financial sickness of the sugar mills but will also lead to the payment of higher price to farmers for the sugarcane.
In the case of Punjab, there are 10 mills with a crushing capacity of 2500 tonnes of sugarcane daily where cogeneration will be cost-effective and power potential is put at 100 to 300 MW.
Sick sugar mills
The diagnostic analysis of the problem put the blame on the labour trouble which prevents start of the crushing operation in time. Also the rate of recovery of sugar from the sugarcane is low (less than 10 per cent) and realisation of the amount for the sugar produced is low due to the policy of levy sugar.
There is also a mis-match between the installed capacity of the mills and the sugarcane grown in Punjab. In 1994-95 the farmers had grown sugarcane in 80,000 hectares and sugar produced was put at 4.95 lakh tonnes. The total installed crushing capacity of the sugar mills is 41,266 tonnes daily and the sugarcane was just sufficient to run all the mills for hardly 12 days. So there is urgent need for correcting the situation. The obsolete machinery and equipment of most of the sugar mills need immediate renovation.
To ensure uninterrupted working, the power plant has been designed to accept other form of bio-fuel such as wood chips, sugarcane tops and leaves, etc. and also fossil fuel at the time of need. To provide flexibility of operation, two units of 6-MW have been provided. The bagasse available from the sugar mill is enough to meet about 50 per cent of the total fuel requirement and the balance is required to be met from other forms of fuel.
The system adopted employs an efficient combined cycle boiler and heat recovery system. The system utilises high pressure steam at a high temperature (66 bars at 480°C) which gives high efficiency to the system. Here the spreader stocker system with continuous ash discharge grate has been provided for feeding the steam generation system. This mode gives better performance for bagasse fuel. The furnace has been provided with strategically located air nozzles and an adequate volume to ensure complete combustion and keeps the resulting emission to zero level.
New garlic planter
PUNJAB Agricultural University has developed a single row manually operated planter for sowing garlic. The machine is very simple in design and weighs only 12 kg. It can sow garlic in about one acre per day, whereas under the manual method the planting involves 15 to 20 persons per acre per day. The cost of planting garlic by manual method is approximately Rs 1,200 per acre, whereas the cost of this machine is Rs 1,000.
The machine has been developed by Dr I.K. Garg, Sr. Research Engineer, Mr Anoop Dixit and Mr Baldev Dogra, Department of Farm Power and Machinery.
In this machine, the planting mechanism has been mounted over the existing PAU wheel hand hoe which is used for interculture purpose and is already commercialised. The planting mechanism consists of a vertical plate with spoons which gets drive from the wheel through the chain and sprockets. The machine with a hopper capacity of about 3 kg is operated by two persons. It has also been provided with markers for maintaining the specific row to row spacing. Plant spacing can be varied by varying the number of spoons on the periphery of the vertical plant.
According to Dr Garg, efforts are being made to develop different spoons for use of this machine for other crops like peas, sunflower, cotton, bhindi, maize, soyabean, etc.
THE newly planted young fruit plants being tender need lot of care and attention for their growth. They should be watered at frequent intervals. The young plants of mango, litchi, etc need staking so as to make them grow upright and straight. Remove all sprouts on rootstock which have grown below the bud-union. The termite attack, if noted, should be checked by applying chlorpyriphos at 1 ml per litre in the soil around the young plants, followed by irrigation.
This would be the most appropriate time for the preparation of land and sowing of rabi intercrops like gram and peas. The kharif intercrops should be harvested and threshed.
The orchard soil should be cultivated for the control of perennial weeds like baru, kahi, motha, parthenium, etc.
To full grown guava plants, apply 1 kg of CAN, 1.25 kg of superphosphate and 0.75 kg muriate of potash during this month.
Transplanting of papaya seedlings (15-20 cm tall) should be completed by mid-October.
To control the insect pests of citrus, spray 570 ml of Thiodan 35 EC (Endosulfan) or 300 ml of Malathion 50 EC per 500 litres of water.
To control citrus leaf folder, spray 625 ml of Nuvacron 40 EC or 1250 ml of Dursban 20 EC or 1000 ml of Ekalux 25 EC in 500 litres of water. Remove webbing to check the bark eating caterpillar and apply 100g of BHC (lindane) suspension in 10 litres of water into the hole with wash bottle. Treat all the alternate host plants in the vicinity.
Give first spray of 100 ppm streptocycline to check citrus canker. Bordeaux mixture or copper oxychloride can also be sprayed.
Spray ber trees with 0.25 per cent wettable sulphur (250 g in 100 liters of water) or 0.05 per cent Karathane 40 EC (50-80 ml in 100 litres of water). The spraying should be done in early October and in the end of October to control powdery mildew of ber.
To each full grown pear tree, apply 10 g Bavistin 50 per cent plus 5 g Vitavax mixed in 100 litres of water along the trunk and around the drip area after the monsoon (October) immediately after the light irrigation to the tree.
Spray ber trees with 0.25 per cent wettable sulphur (250g in 100 litres of water) or 0.50 per cent Karathane 40 EC (50 ml in 100 litres of water) in early October and again in the end of October to control powdery mildew of ber.
Remove malformated panicles of mango along with about 15 cm of healthy shoots and spray the whole tree with NAA at the rate of 1 gram in 500 litres of water.