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The brown revolution…

In 1949-50 Indian production of potato was 1.54 million tonnes. Last year it was close to 50 million tonnes. From using potato as a table subzi, it is increasingly processed into chips, French fries... An IIT Chemical engineer has developed varieties for making aloo tikki! PepsiCo value adds potato procured in bulk at around Rs 6 per kg by processing it into ruffles and sells it at Rs 380 per kg!

The brown revolution…

Jagjivan Ram, former Union Minister, had extensive knowledge on a variety of sectors. As Union Minister, he handled a broad range of portfolios from agriculture to defence to telecommunications. Addressing economic editors in 1977-78 as Defence Minister, he narrated an interesting experience: “I used to take chappatis with a lot of potato subzi. My wife would insist on my taking more chappatis and complain about my thinning due to underfeeding. She would not consider my treating an extra plate of potato subzi as food!” To relate it fully, the rotund Ram was a fat, hefty man, not wanting intake of food or nourishment! 

Ram explained the fallacy that the spectacular growth in production of potatoes not considered as part of the green revolution. He pointed out that world over potato was considered the fourth item of food production after rice, wheat and corn. That year there was a bumper harvest of potato, of 10 million tonnes, with a handsome jump in productivity. (In 1949-50 production was just 1.54 million tonnes),  a near seven’ fold rise in production! Look at the interesting progression: 10 years later potato production jumped to 20 million tonnes and last year it was close to 50 million tonnes.

Dramatic expansion of area under potato, productivity...

I visited the Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI), a unit of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, at Shimla in November. Director of the Institute, Dr S K Chakrabarti referred to the dramatic expansion of the area under potato, in productivity and hence of production: “last year production was at a record 49 million tonnes with the area close to 2 million generating handsome surpluses even for export of potato and its products,” he said. Happily, bulk of this comfortable situation is due to the research done over the last seven decades. 

CPRI has seven regional research stations spread across potato growing areas in Himachal Pradesh, UP, Punjab, MP, Bihar, Meghalaya and Tamil Nadu. The different climatic geographies enabled research over different varieties and also serve the different regions. Dr Chakrabarti, an expert on tuber crops, had earlier headed the Central Tapioca Research Station at Thiruvananthapuram for four years and has been familiar with the conditions in the southern region. He pointed to tapioca widely grown in Salem, Namakkal and Erode districts and the extensive industrial production of starch, sago, etc. 

Need to process more...

Dr Chakrabarti said the present sumptuous production of potato was the result of the intense research at CPRI on improved potato varieties and improved production technology developed by the institute. He stressed the emergence of several private sector companies engaged in potato business and the efforts made by CPRI to develop linkages with these. He pointed to the need to go for a much higher level of processing that will reduce the losses suffered at present: “there is the boom and bust cycle in the potato production as well. There is need to develop an efficient processing industry to tackle the problem of glut and ensure stable prices. At present around 8 per cent of the produce is processed thanks to the attention paid to develop special varieties for producing chips, finger chips, etc. But this is against 60 per cent of such processed potatoes in Europe.  An increase in this can help reduce present losses suffered for want of storage and timely marketing of this perishable product, to the extent of 14-15 per cent.”

The Director expressed satisfaction over a rapid increase in cold storage facilities estimated around 7000 units at the end of last year. 90 per cent of this is used for potato, he said. 

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