Bangladesh currently exports hardly 3% of its exportable potatoes, losing key export market seven years ago due to quality compromise
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.
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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.
Thanks to dishonesty on the part of exporters, 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 to half.
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Ferdousi Begum, Managing Director of Ferdous Biotech, and founding secretary of Bangladesh Potato Exporters Association, which exports potatoes to Brunei, laid responsibility for the problem on a section of dishonest exporters for whom, she recalled, “We lost the Russian market at a time when Russians had just started showing interest in importing more potatoes from Bangladesh.” Some 26 export containers meant for Russia were found to be filled with brown rot disease-infested potatoes,” she recalled.
Russia assures Bangladesh of considering restart of potato import
At a recent meeting with the Russian envoy to Bangladesh, Agriculture Minister Dr Muhammad Abdur Razzaque made a strong case in favour of a lifting of the Russian import ban.
He assured the envoy of quality potato supply if Russia decided to open its market again, saying steps had been taken to ensure that potatoes with bacterial disease did not end up in export consignments.
In response, the Russian ambassador in Dhaka Alexander Vikentyevich Mantytskiy assured of considering positively about the resumption of potato import from Bangladesh. But there is not yet any clear indication on how soon that may happen.
At a stakeholders’ meeting earlier this month, the agriculture minister also wondered why Bangladesh should be flooded with imported potato crackers and chips when the country had a surplus in potato production.
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He urged private entrepreneurs to produce import-substitute quality products made of potatoes at home both for local and export markets.
A potato trader, Syed Nazrul Islam Faruque, told Dhaka Tribune that Bangladeshi potato exporters were exploring different markets from Sri Lanka to Malaysia, from Singapore to Brunei, but Russia had been the most potential one and “we must regain the lost market.”
In a recent report, the Department of Agricultural Marketing (DAM), emphasized certain issues needing to be resolved for accelerating potato exports.DAM has identified a lack of testing facilities for export-led potatoes ( heavy metal and other phytosanitary issues), container crisis at Chittagong Port and excessive use of fertilizers such as muriate of potash (MoP) in potato fields.