Progress in state on potato value chain should be replicated: PepsiCo Asia head

Avinash Nair
gujarat, gujarat farmers, potato, potato farmers, pepsico india, indian express

"Potatoes storages used to be a concern in the past, where after July or August we never used to get consistent supply. These things are improving and Gujarat has taken a lead,"Nischint Bhatia, the Asia head of PepsiCo, said.

Appreciating the pace of growth of the potato-value chain in Gujarat, Nischint Bhatia, the Asia head of PepsiCo, said that progress in the state should be “replicated in other parts of the country”. He was addressing the Global Potato Conclave in Gandhinagar on Thursday.

“Potatoes travel close to a 1,000 km in lean months. There are a few pockets that grow off-season potatoes. Potatoes storages used to be a concern in the past, where after July or August we never used to get consistent supply. These things are improving and Gujarat has taken a lead. We need to have the progress of Gujarat replicated in other parts of the country,” he said. “How can industry and farmers win together? We follow contract farming or collaborative farming, where we put farmers at the centre.”

The company tries to assist farmers with technical guidance, bank loans and drip irrigation for a better yield, he added. “We try to build an ecosystem or model farms and see where yields can be more, losses can be lower.”

PepsiCo, which is one of the major sponsors of the conclave, had sued 11 farmers from Gujarat for illegally growing and selling a potato variety registered in the company’s name. Bhatia didn’t make any reference to the suits filed for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) violations, which the company had later withdrawn.

‘Seed districts’

Talking about the quality of seeds, Bhatia said “specialised seed districts” need to be developed and the production of potato seeds needs to move beyond Punjab, “Today, one of the concerns is that the seeds gets produced in Punjab and potatoes for chip stock and seeds grow side-by-side. So, the virus or the disease levels are much higher... If we can have specialised seed districts or incentives for developing them, it will be good for everybody. People will get seeds that are less disease infested or more hygienic...The seed will help farmers get higher yields and higher productivity. The geographies could also be expanded beyond Punjab.” Seeds comprise 40 percent of the cultivation costs for a potato farmer in India.

A senior scientist from the Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) at the conclave said adoption of micro-irrigation by potato farmers in Gujarat was worthy of emulation. “Potato farmers in other parts of the country have not come forward to adopt micro-irrigation due to the high costs. In Gujarat, before the introduction of micro-irrigation systems, the potato productivity was just seven tonne per hectares. Now, it is leading the country with 37 tonne per hectare,” said Name Singh, Principal Scientist (Agronomy), CPRI, Modipuram, Uttar Pradesh.

Singh said the farmers in the country annually produce 53 million metric tonne (mt) of potatoes and face a glut whenever the production goes beyond 43 million mt. “If the government brings out a policy to produce the additional quantum of potatoes and distribute them through the public distribution system, farmers can get remunerative prices,” the scientist said. Dr KV Prabhu, Chairperson, PPV&FRA (Protec-tion of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority), was present at the event.