Smallholder farmers export potatoes despite COVID-19 challenges

Publish: 9:04 PM, April 5, 2021 | Update: 9:04:PM, April 5, 2021

DHAKA,  – Following health guidelines and physical distancing, potato producers, exporters, government officials, and FAO representatives have gathered at Pairabandh, Mithapukur in the Rangpur region to inaugurate this year’s export of potatoes.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) and the Sara Bangla Krishak Society jointly organised the event, a FAO press release said today.

Potato farmers began to harvest their crop this year amidst the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Many were concerned whether they would be able to make a profit from their investment or whether their potatoes would go to waste but their partnerships with potato exporters and their ability to produce quality potatoes according to ‘Good Agricultural Practices’ has made all the difference.

Since 2018, FAO has been working with three potato producer cooperatives in Rangpur, under the Missing Middle Initiative of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP).

The cooperatives were trained in Good Agricultural Practices for potato production as well as financial and digital literacy. They are strong and well-managed. FAO and DAE linked them with exporters, retail chain shops, and cold storage facilities.

Through the connection with exporters, they exported 1,000 tonnes of potatoes last year. This year more exporters have been in touch and now the cooperative members, as well as neighbouring potato farmers, are able to sell their potatoes for a fair price through the co-op to these exporters.

The combination of strong cooperatives producing high-quality potatoes and their partnership with exporters is the key for potato producers in the region to grow their livelihoods sustainably.

Salma, a young potato grower from Bodorganj upazila, said: “Based on our experience last year, many farmers have increased their production and requested our co-op to sell their potatoes to exporters. For the exporters, our co-op makes the process hassle free.”

Bangladesh produces more than 11 million tonnes of potatoes each year, of which about four million are surplus. Finding ways to utilise this surplus has the potential to bring a huge increase in profits for farmers and others along the value chain. The government is very clear about the importance of this.

At the inaugural function, Md. Mesbahul Islam, Senior Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, said: “Now is the time to handle surplus potatoes. We have to increase export competitiveness and improve the varieties for export and processing.”

Moksedul, President of Birhim Potato Growers’ Group in Pirgacha, Rangpur, said: “Though prices fluctuate during the seasonal glut every year, our farmers are getting a fair cash price from exporters.”

FAO is committed to further strengthening the sector. Robert Simpson, FAO Representative in Bangladesh, said: “FAO will continue its efforts to support smallholders to produce and process quality potatoes for export, as well as local consumption. Producer cooperatives and links with the private sector are the keys to success.”

Participants at the ceremony came away inspired by the potential of this partnership to uplift smallholder farmers and ensure livelihoods for many despite the significant challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.