By most conservative estimates, Bangladesh had an exportable surplus of over two million tons of potatoes in the last financial year. But the country managed to tap less than three percent of its potential.
It earned $51 million by exporting only 55,000 tons of the tuber crop in 2020-21. As a result, carryover potato stocks in cold storages act as a serious disincentive for growers, who often complain of low-price offers during peak potato seasons.
Farmers and cold storage owners in Munshiganj, a key potato growing zone of the country, say that due to unsold huge previous stocks, prices of potatoes remained low at the producers’ level. The situation, they fear, may lead to potato acreage getting shrunk next year.
The Cold Storage Association has urged the government to activate its all missions abroad in order for new markets to be explored for exports of the tuber crop and add potatoes to the government’s subsidized food aid programs meant for the poor.
Agriculture Minister Dr Muhammad Abdur Razzaque recently acknowledged that farmers and cold storage owners were concerned with the sale of potatoes in their stocks. He emphasized the need for exporting more fresh potatoes as well as potato-made products and solicited the private sector’s cooperation in following good agricultural practices (GAP) in potato production so that export potentials could be fully harnessed.
With over 10 million tons of yield in the last financial year, Bangladesh stands 7th in the world in potato production. Local demand for potatoes can at best absorb 8 million tons. The country’s yearly potato exports crossed the 100,000-ton threshold back in FY2013-14 when Russia opened its market to Bangladeshi potatoes.
The very next year Bangladesh lost the Russian market as the latter found the export consignments from Bangladesh to be below quality and said it would not import potatoes again unless Bangladesh upgraded its phytosanitary system, prevented phytosanitary certificate fraudulence and ensured proper inspection at ports prior to exporting the product.
Russia has a demand of 26 million MT of potatoes annually with a shortage of 5 million MT, said market sources. They point out that even if the total volume of Bangladesh’s exportable surplus is dispatched to Russia that would not meet half of the Russian demand. Ever since Bangladesh lost its market in Russia, its potato exports have dropped by a half.