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Potato exports fail to pick up

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by April 13, 2017 General

Potato exports have remained low ever since Russia barred the entry of the vegetable in May 2015 on food safety grounds after detecting some diseased consignments.

Prior to the ban, shipment of the tuber had hit a record high of about 1 lakh tonnes in 2013-14, spurred by the demand from Russia.

Since July last year, about 30,000 tonnes of potato were shipped, with the total exports expected to be 35,000-40,000 tonnes at the end of the fiscal year, said officials of Plant Quarantine Wing under the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).

Last fiscal year, potato export slumped 58 percent to 37,270 tonnes — a direct manifestation of the embargo from Russia.

The lack of availability of export-quality potato has dampened the prospect of increased exports this fiscal year, said Md Zahirul Islam Khan, proprietor of Agro Tech BD, an exporter of the vegetable.

The quality of a large quantity of potato has deteriorated for rainfall during the harvesting period, he said.

Farmers planted potato on 5.28 lakh hectares this fiscal year, up 11.16 percent year-on-year. Production grew 19 percent year-on-year to 1.13 crore tonnes this fiscal year, according to DAE estimates.

Exporters are also finding it tough to compete with their peers from other countries, he added.

The domestic potato prices are high, according to Ferdousi Begum, managing director of Ferdous Biotech.

In Dhaka, the tuber sold at Tk 15-20 a kilogram yesterday, up 25 percent from a month ago, according to Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.

The shipment of the tuber this fiscal year would have been higher had the government not halved the cash incentive for potato export to 10 percent from this year, she said.

Malaysia is the main destination for locally grown potatoes. The tuber is also sent to Singapore, the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, according to exporters and government officials.

Exporters here have to compete with Pakistan, China and India in the export destinations, mainly Malaysia.

“We began exporting potato to Brunei this year,” said Ferdousi, also the vice-president of the Bangladesh Potato Exporters Association.

The migrant workers are the main buyers of the locally grown potato, she said, adding that the locals at the importing countries also show interest.

The prospect of exports, particularly to Malaysia, is bright, said Md Mahtab Uddin, chief operating officer at Pran Agro Business.

Increased incentives for export will make exporters more price competitive and help ship higher quantity of potatoes, he said.

Azhar Ali, additional director of Plant Quarantine Wing of the DAE, said steps will be taken so that the Russian market reopens.

He suggested exporters should sort and grade potatoes properly to ensure the shipment of only good-quality potato. “The demand for our potato will rise if exporters do so,” Ali added.

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