Potato Mission draws a big cipher for Odisha governance model!

The Rs 267cr Mission launched with much fanfare minus the forward and backward linkages to farmers bombed in the very first year. Instead of amending, the ruling BJD dropped it altogether like a hot potato

Bhubaneswar: The State Potato Mission now turning a hot potato for the ruling BJD reflects on how the tall governance claim of the Odisha government proved a big cipher.

Launched with much fanfare, the State Potato Mission, which even elicited praise from CM Naveen Patnaik, has not only had a stuttered implementation since its birth but was finally dropped like a hot potato by the State Government.

And the ‘small potato’ talk over the State Potato Mission between State Finance minister Niranjan Pujari and former Agriculture Minister Pradeep Maharathy recently in State Assembly tells a grim tale about the governance model in the State.

The then Agriculture Minister Pradeep Maharathy made the mega launch of Rs 267 crore worth State Potato Mission with an ambitious talk of making Odisha self sufficient in potato production.  The Mission had set a production target of 11.2 Lakh Tonnes (LT) by 2017-18 from 2 LT in 2015-16.

Sample the failings. As per a statement laid in the House yesterday,  the potato production in the State in 2018-19 stood at a measly 2.94LT. In contrast the demand of the tuber in the State has been estimated at a massive 12.7LT. The cipher show of the State Potato Mission is the production of the tuber in the period of 2015-16 to 2018-19 grew by mere 94,000 tonnes vis-a-vis the target of 3.4LT per year.

Why the tuber production target crashed? It is so because farmers got a raw deal in value realisation. Under the Mission, in the first year farmers bought quality Gujarati variety tuber seeds from district agriculture centres at Rs 35-40 per kg. Farmers need around 2,500 kg tuber seeds to cultivate potato in one hectare land. The expenses towards the seeds they then incurred were a high of around Rs 1 lakh/ha. With the productivity of potato per hectare has been around 12 tonnes or 12,000 kg, a farmer had spent Rs 8 towards seed for every one kg potato produced.

But lack of cold storages and high production across the nation, the potato prices crashed in the State. Significantly, after much criticism, the State Government then had decided to procure potato from farmers at Rs 6/kilo, when the seed expenses alone were Rs 8/kilo.

Red faced over huge loss, the farmers abandoned potato cultivation in the very next farm season.

The gaping hole in the State Potato Mission is, it never was conceived as a holistic mission – that covers market input, market support for tuber cultivators. Moreover, without putting in place the necessary cold chain infra, the Agriculture Department jumped into ramping up production. As the Mission has failed to put in place forward and backward linkage for the tuber growers, the Mission stuttered only to halt just after a year.

However, the State Government has erred again when instead of bringing in remedial measures to put the Mission back in track, the State Finance minister Niranjan Pujari did a trifle talk over the State Potato Mission by stating in Assembly that “The Potato Mission started and ended with Maharathy’s tenure.”

The bottomline: Odisha imports a colossal 10 LT tuber per year from states like West Bengal, UP, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. Odisha farmers stand losers again.