INTERNATIONAL POTATO CENTER: WORLD POTATO ATLAS
HISTORY AND OVERVIEW
The potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) was introduced to southern Asia in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, most likely by Portuguese mariners. However, as Europeans at that time were still ambivalent about the potato as a source of wholesome nutrition, its inclusion as cargo on ships from Portugal (and possibly other European countries) could have been as a botanical curiosity, not only as a potential food crop (Malik 1995, p. 4).
The early historical record of the potato in India is unclear since the term "potato" is derived from "batata," the Carib term for sweetpotato (Ipomoea batatas), which preceded the potato by eighty years in its introduction to Europe (whence Asia and Africa) from its site of origin in the Andes of South America (Purseglove 1968). The earliest known reference to "potato" in India is from an account by Edward Terry, who was chaplain to Sir Thomas Roe, British ambassador to the court of the Mughal Emperor Jahanagir from 1615 to 1619, in the northern area of contemporary India. In his description of Indian agriculture, Terry wrote, "In the northernmost part of the empire they have good roots as carrot, potatoes and others like them are grown" (Upadhya, cited in Pandey and Kaushik 2003, p. 22). Although Terry was very likely referring to potato, he might have meant the sweetpotato (sometimes called "yam," to further confuse the historical record), which was by then being cultivated on a very minor scale in India.
British colonial governor Warren Hastings promoted (true) potato cultivation during his term, from 1772 to 1785 (Banglapedia), and by the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century, potatoes were sufficiently established in the hills and plains of India that varieties had acquired local names, such as: Phulwa ("flowering in the plains"), Gola ("round potatoes"), and Satha ("maturing in sixty days") (Pandey and Kaushik 2003, p. 23). However, the potato remained a garden vegetable of minor scale, often grown at higher altitudes by British colonizers as a summer crop.
Varieties were introduced via Europe, most of which proved unsuitable to Indian conditions on the hotter plains, since they were adapted to cultivation during the long summer days of Europe, not the shorter winter days of southern Asia best suited to larger scale potato production. Initial attempts to establish the potato in India were also challenged by storage during hot summers and fast degeneration of seed tubers, probably due to viral infection. A few varieties survived at higher altitudes, such as Magnum Bonum, Royal Kidney, Great Scot, Craig's Defiance, and Up-to-Date, the last of which was subsequently introduced from India east to Burma, where it remains a prominent variety.
The Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) was founded in 1949, approximately two years after national independence, to develop potato varieties and technologies appropriate to Indian conditions. By 1950, 32 cultivated varieties had been identified, 16 each of relatively recent European import and more locally adapted so-called Desi varieties (Pandey and Kaushik 2003, p. 23). By 2002, CPRI had released an additional 35 varieties, contributing to an enormous expansion of potato cultivation and productivity.
Over the past few decades, potato has become the fastest growing staple crop in India. Production trends are summrized graphically below.
The current trend is being driven in part by a shift in food habits, as demand for potatoes increases with greater absolute numbers of people with relatively high incomes. India's population is approximately 28 percent urban, a proportion which has remained fairly stable over the past decade, but urban Indians with higher incomes are providing much of the growing demand for potatoes (FAOSTAT).
The potato in India is not primarily a rural staple, but as in much of Asia, a cash crop which provides significant income to rural farmers. The potato processing industry is still undeveloped, but has strong potential to grow in response to domestic and international markets. Current and potential gains in productivity should, however, be considered in light of overall population growth. Even at a relatively modest annual growth rate, currently estimated at 1.7 percent, India could become the world's most populous nation, with possibly over 1.5 billion people by 2050 (UN, PRB).
GEOGRAPHY AND PRODUCTION ZONES
India's total landmass of nearly three million square kilometers can be divided into three main regions:
- The Indo-Gangetic Plain;
- The Himalayas to the north;
- The Southern Peninsula.
The Indo-Gangetic Plain, the site of most potato cultivation, is a great alluvial crescent stretching from the Indus River system and the Punjab Plain (traversing western India and Pakistan) eastward across the Haryana Plain to the delta of the Ganga (or Ganges) in Bangladesh, where it is called the Padma. The plain is characterized by a fairly consistent topography, differentiated slightly by floodplain bluffs and other features of alluvial erosion (US LOC: Geography).
- Many maps of more specific classifications — for example by soil types, agro-ecological zones, and land use — are available from the European Digital Archive of Soil Maps, India. Most images are digitized from paper maps, of variable clarity.
Climate and Precipitation
Although India's climate is highly variable over the enormous range of the country, there are distinct seasons (US LOC: Climate):
- A relatively dry, cool winter from December through February;
- The hot, dry summer from March through May;
- The southwest monsoon from June through September when the predominating southwest maritime winds bring rains to most of the country;
- The northeast, or retreating, monsoon of October and November.
A failure of the monsoons can occur due to variations of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), causing severe long-term and extensive drought, as happened several times from 1876 to 1902. Estimates of famine mortality in India during that period range from over twelve million to nearly thirty million people (Davis 2002, p. 7).
Regional Distribution of Potato Production
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For more detailed information about data sources and interpretation, click here.
Potatoes are widely grown in India, but the greatest concentration by far occurs along the Indo-Gangetic Plain to the northeast, where most potatoes are grown during the short winter days from October to March. Potato cultivation in the south is generally limited by an excessively hot climate.
Areas of high relative concentration of potato cultivation include (Pandey and Kang 2003, p. 48):
- The states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar accounting for more than 75 percent of area under cultivation and about 80 percent of total production;
- Punjab state to the west, adjacent to Pakistan, where roughly seven percent of area and production occur;
- Higher altitude areas to the north, where a summer crop accounts for about five percent of total production;
- The southern peninsula, where approximately six percent of the total crop is grown on relatively high altitude plateaus, such as the Nilgiri and Palini hills of Tamil Nadu, under alternating rain-fed and irrigated conditions throughout the year.
PRODUCTION SYSTEMS AND CONSTRAINTS
Land Use and Land Tenure
As of 1987, field crops were planted on about 45 percent of the total landmass of India, or roughly 135 million hectares. Of this land, almost 37 million hectares were double cropped, making the gross sown area equivalent to almost 172 million hectares (US LOC: Agriculture). Discounting land which is developed for nonagricultural purposes, suitable only for pasture or otherwise unsuited to agricultural, potential expansion in crop production has to be derived almost entirely from lands already in some kind of agricultural use, a situation which has only intensified further in the intervening years. Under these circumstances, the system depends on a greater diversity of crops which are productive relative to land and time and which complement the cropping calendars of major staples (wheat, rice, and maize), all factors which favor the rapid expansion of the potato crop.
India remains mostly a land of small farms cultivated by family labor. As of 1980, about half of all agricultural holdings were of less than one hectare, while large holdings (ten or more hectares) accounted for only four percent of all holdings. Legislation pertaining to land tenure and the establishment of fair rents for tenants lies within the legal realm of states, not the federal government, hence is variable across the nation. Generally, however, the trend since independence has been away from a heavy concentration of large holdings owned by absentee landlords and toward small-scale tenure. In many areas of India, holdings have been diminished by recurrent division via inheritance, in some cases to the point where farms are no longer independently viable (ibid.).
As a result of diminishing farm holdings and underlying population growth, the number of landless or near-landless families has been growing since independence both in absolute numbers and proportionately to the population. Without their own viable land holdings, many rural Indians are dependent on seasonal work at the peak planting and harvesting seasons. In 1981 there were nearly 200 million rural workers, of whom over 55 million depended primarily on occasional farm work for a livelihood. By the early 1990s, the rural work force had grown to 242 million, of whom nearly a third (over 73 million people) were classified as agricultural laborers (ibid.).
Very generally, there are two major cropping seasons in India:
- Kharif, during the south-west monsoon (June/July through September/October), when agricultural production takes place both in rainfed areas and irrigated conditions;
- Rabi, during the winter, when agricultural activities take place only in the irrigated areas.
Climatic variations across India determine not only the regional distribution of the crop, but also to a large extent the seasonal cropping patterns. The optimal temperature range for potato is from 15º to 25º C (59º to 77º F). However, night temperature is critically important to tuber development and should not exceed 20º C (68º F), a factor which limits the season in many areas in the south, as frost can limit the season in the higher altitude regions of the north (Kushwah and Govindakrishnan 2003, p. 105).
Across the Indo-Gangetic Plain, generally one crop is grown during winter, planted from late October to early November and harvested January through February (ibid., p. 107). In the eastern areas (eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, and Orissa), it is sometimes possible to take advantage of the shorter and milder winter by planting two potato crops in succession, the first roughly from September to November-December, followed by another crop from November to March (Lal et. al. 2003).
The smaller high-altitude potato crops are typically planted in May or June, and harvested in September or October. Where mid-altitudes allow for an earlier spring crop, planting can be undertaken in February or March for a harvest in July or August, when prices are generally very high (op. cit.).
The autumn crop, planted around mid-October and harvested February or March, is important to the Punjab area to the west, adjacent to Pakistan (where it is the most important seasonal potato crop).
Cropping Patterns and Fertility Management
Land Preparation. Prior to planting, land should be of a fine tilth for easy placement of seed tubers and to allow roots to penetrate the soil. Depending on soil type and crop history, this can normally be achieved by one plowing and one harrowing, followed by planking. In lighter soils, farmers do not always have to plow prior to planting, but if the potato crop is following paddy rice or jute (more typical of the West Bengal area), more preparation may be necessary (Kushwah and Govindakrishnan 2003). However, studies from Gwlior, in the north central area of the plains, have shown that minimal tilling (one harrowing followed by one planking) did not diminish the subsequent potato yield which followed a green manure crop of sunhemp plowed under in the previous kharif season (Govindakrishnan and Kushwah 2003).
Water management. Potatoes planted during the spring and summer in the mountains and plateaus to the north and northeast are usually grown under rainfed conditions, but the predominant winter rabi crop cultivated across the Indo-Gangetic Plains is grown with irrigation. Furrow irrigation is the most common method, based on long furrows where mechanical cultivation is practiced. Shorter and more tightly spaced furrows are more common under manual operation. Sprinkler systems are sometimes used where conditions do not favor furrow irrigation, e.g. undulating topography or very sandy soils. Sprinklers also offer the advantage of more even water distribution and generally result in higher yields, though the cost of a sprinkler system is beyond the means of most farmers. Drip irrigation has been introduced, with impressive results in terms of enhanced efficiency of irrigation water. About fifty percent less water use has been reported, with twenty to thirty percent higher yields relative to furrow irrigation. However, drip irrigation is also an expensive option for the time being. Mulches have been proven to conserve water in experimental treatments (Sood and Singh 2003).
Soil Amendments and Intercropping. Green manuring is recommended for potato, especially in the northern plains, though the actual extent of the practice is not reported. Commercial fertilizers are widely used, although typical applications rates and practices are not reported. The most appropriate use of fertilizer varies by locale, but the general range of recommended applications for the northern plains area by kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) is: Nitrogen 180-240; Phosphorous 80-100; Potassium 100-150 (Govindakrishnan and Kushwah 2003). Effective use of fertilizer is sometimes cited as a reason for intercropping. As potato roots are shallow, fertilizer dissolved in water can leach below the potato root zone, but might subsequently be recovered by a deeper rooting crop such as wheat.
In the western and central Indo-Gangetic plains (including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, and Rajasthan), potato is a rabi crop rarely grown as a sequential monocrop (i.e. potato crops in succession in one place). The most common rotation is maize-potato-wheat, though in some areas a maize-potato or paddy rice-potato rotation is practiced. A potato-sugarcane sequence is becoming popular partly due to the compatibility of the planting and harvesting, sugarcane closely following the potato harvest in spring (Lal et. al. 2003).
In the eastern Gangetic plains (eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, and Orissa), rice is more commonly part of a rotation, as is jute (grown for fiber) in West Bengal. In Bihar and Jharkhand, potato is popular as a rotation crop since it makes effective use of small land holdings and readily available family labor (ibid.).
Crop Establishment. Since seed tubers are a major factor of production costs, farmers have to weigh the relative benefits of larger tubers, which produce faster initial growth and higher potential yields, but at higher cost. Generally recommended practice (again, not necessarily typical practice) is to plant tubers of 30 to 40 grams at a spacing of around 60 by 20 centimeters. Since the cropping season of the Gangetic plains is short, a common practice is to pre-sprout seed tubers prior to planting. Tubers are removed from cold storage and kept for ten to fifteen days in diffused light to ensure that sprouts will be short, thick, and green (Kushwah and Govindakrishnan 2003).
Harvesting. Ideally, haulms are cut about ten days prior to harvest to promote maturation of the potato skin and therefore minimize bruising and damage during harvest. This is not always possible when a crop is to be sold immediately after harvest and is not expected to be in storage for an appreciable time. Both mechanical and manual harvesting techniques are used (ibid.).
Occurrence and Control of Potato Diseases and Pests
This list is not complete, but includes several diseases and pests known to be serious constraints to potato cultivation in India. For more technically specific information (though not usually specific to India), please refer to the relevant sites included in:
Late Blight is caused by a fungus-like oomycete, Phytophthora infestans, which is a specialized pathogen of potato and, to a lesser extent, tomato (another member of the plant family Solanaceae).
- For more information, please see the Global Initiative on Late Blight (GILB) India Profile.
Early Blight is a fungal infection caused by Alternari solani, the disease is manifest by circular to oval brown spots on older and lower leaves, occurring before tuber initiation but continuing to develop until the death of the affected plant. Mature lesions often exhibit a "bull's eye" appearance (Arora et. al. 2003).
Cercospora Leaf Spot, caused by Cercospora solani tuberosi, affects both foliage and stems. Spots, reaching two to five millimeters in diameter, are brown with a whitish center. The disease appears to be particular to India, first observed at Patna in Bihar state in 1951, but to date little information has been reported (Arora et. al. 2003).
Powdery Scab, caused by Spongaspora subterranea sp. subterranea, has been reported as a fairly widespread disease in India.
Black Scurf is a fungus, Rhizoctonia solani, that attacks tubers, underground stems, and stolons of potato plants, especially in cool, damp soils. Although generally described as more of a cosmetic problem due to black irregular encrustations of fungal sclerotia, it has been described as a major concern in India, attacking and killing young sprouts on tubers before emergence. Seed tubers can be treated with fungicides, but the disease can also be controlled via crop rotations with cereals and legumes (ibid.).
Dry Rot is a widely occurring problem of potatoes in storage, caused by infection of fungal Fusarium spp. Symptoms are generally visible about a month into storage, first as small brown lesions which can cause internal cavities and mummified rot. It can be avoided via careful harvesting and post-harvest handling, and can also be treated with fungicides and biocontrol agents (ibid.).
Viral Diseases. At least twelve viral diseases are known to infect the potato crop in India, causing progressive degeneration of seed stocks. The most important include: PVX, PVY, PVS, PVA and Potato Leaf Roll Virus (PLRV) (Joseph et. al. 2003).
CPRI is routinely using micropropagation techniques, such as meristem tissue culture, to eliminate viral infections in "basic seed" tubers from which certified seed tubers are produced.
- A basic description of micropropagation is available via Wikipedia.
Prior to release, tubers are screened for the presence of viral infection via techniques such as ELISA. Of the varieties released by CPRI, the widely grown Kufri Jyoti, Kufri Bahar, and Kufri Sindhuri seem to exhibit a slower rate of degeneration than others (Khurana and Garg 2003).
Since viral infections are often transmitted via aphids, CPRI has surveyed a number of locations for aphid populations. Where and when populations are minimal, seed potatoes can be grown with minor precautions, as in some locations of the northern plains from October to early January (ibid.). Aphid population dynamics have been modeled, relying primarily on temperature and humidity, to enable predictions of population changes one or two weeks in advance (Chandla et. al. 2003). This work has made possible the "Seed Plot Technique," noted below under "Varieties and Seed Systems/ The Formal System."
Bacterial Wilt (Ralstonia solanacearum) is the most destructive bacterial disease of potato and several other plants of economic importance, known in India as ghera, uktha, bangle blight, bangdi, or parya. Losses attributable to bacterial wilt can be as high as 75 percent and have caused potato to be temporarily abandoned in some areas, such as Bihar (Gadewar et. al. 2003).
Potato Cyst Nematodes (Globodera rostochiensis and G. pallida) have been reported as serious constraints to potato cultivation in the Niligiri Hills of Tamil Nadu. This is not a major potato producing area, but losses have been reported as high as 80 percent. Research has indicated that cyst nematode populations can be reduced with positive net financial returns via the integration of a strain of rhizobacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescens, as well as the use of neem cake as a soil amendment and/or intercrops of mustard (Devrajan et. al. 2004).
VARIETIES AND SEED SYSTEMS
Potato varieties in India have been derived from two subspecies, Solanum tuberosum subspecies tuberosum and subspecies andigena (Shekhawat et. al. 1992). As of independence, most varieties were of recent European import, and few were suitable to the short-day conditions of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. CPRI has concentrated its efforts on the development of varieties which are short-day adapted, heat and drought tolerant, resistant to degenerative viruses, and relatively storable during hot Indian summers. A few varieties have been cited as generally popular, among them Phulwa, Darjeeling Red Round, and Gola (Pandey and Kang 2003), and Kufri Jyoti, Kufri Bahar, and Kufri Sindhuri (Khurana and Garg 2003).
In Meghalaya State in the northeast, and possibly in other relatively high-altitude areas, the older established and more locally adapted Desi varieties retain more popularity, partly due to the slower rates of degeneration and shorter dormancy of some varieties. Slow degeneration is a more important factor where the higher-altitude environment allows for the possibility to retain seed stocks over several generations (generally not feasible on the hotter plains). In some areas, shorter dormancy can allow farmers to plant both a spring and autumn crop. Among Desi varieties still being grown on a small scale by some farmers in Meghalaya are Lah Saw, Lah Syntiew, Lah Lupon, and Lah Taret (Mohinder Singh Kadian, personal communication).
Varieties have been selected for consumption in fresh form, but a more recent objective of varietal development has been selection for processing, i.e. varieties with high dry matter content and low levels of reducing sugars. The first two "processing varieties," Kufri Chipsona-1 and Kufri Chipsona-2, were released in 1998 (Singh and Pandey 2003).
The "Informal" Seed System
A "seed system" is broadly defined as "an interrelated set of components including breeding, management, replacement, and distribution of seed" (Thiele 1998, p. 84). Most tuber seed used in India has been produced and distributed by farmers themselves (the "informal system"), but individual farm households are not usually self-sufficient for a long period of time. Farmers need seed tubers from an external source at least occasionally for several reasons, such as to replace seed lost to disease or pest infestation, or to acquire new varieties (Tripp 1997, cited in Bentley and Velasques 1998, p.1).
Since the ecological diversity of India allows for several potato crops grown according to different calendars, farmers have traditionally depended for seed tubers on harvests from other areas made a few months prior to their own planting. Some areas of potato production, such as West Bengal to the east and Karnataka to the south, are not suitable for the production of seed tubers due to high populations of aphids (the vectors of potato virus) during the cropping season. Potato crops grown at colder, higher altitudes have been important in the "informal" system, due to their complementary cropping calendars and the slower degeneration of tuber seed at lower rates of viral infection.
Seed is likely to be a high cost of production to the extent that it is imported across greater distances. Farmers in West Bengal and Karnataka depend on seed imported from the north, some transported as far as 2,000 kilometers. As seed degenerates at a fairly rapid rate in these areas, farmers have to replace their seed with newly imported stock, generally every two years in West Bengal and every year in Karnataka (Mohinder Singh Kadian, personal communication).
Unfortunately, this movement of tuber seed can spread disease. Several authors (e.g. Kushwah and Govindakrishnan 2003) have noted that locally produced potato seed tubers are often kept for eight to nine months in cold storage (referring primarily to the northern plains), an expensive option for farmers which suggests that they are reluctant to introduce seed from other regions if not necessary.
By contrast, areas of higher altitude and less accessibility are typically more self-sufficient, but might suffer reduced yields due to the gradual degeneration of potato seed which cannot be readily replaced. In Meghalaya, a mountainous state in the northeast, nearly 98 percent of all seed used to establish new crops is provided by local production, in many cases by farmers who retain some of their own tubers for seed. Most farmers in Meghalaya have used the same seed stock for ten generations, and some have not replaced their seed for over twenty years. When degeneration becomes so severe that farmers have to acquire new stocks, they often spend very precious cash to buy seed from traders or other farmers. CPRI is working to introduce new seed production techniques, while the local Department of Horticulture provides farmers with subsidized seed, but their efforts are challenged by very high transportation costs from distant areas of northern India, such as Himachal Pradesh (Mohinder Singh Kadian, personal communication).
The "Formal" Seed System
The "formal" system refers to seed tubers produced and distributed by state-sponsored institutions (possibly with some involvement of the private sector and/or non-government organizations). Seed from the formal sector has generally been subject to an inspection process intended to assure that the seed is of the variety claimed, with little or no incidence of disease or pest infestation, and otherwise viable. "Basic" or "breeder" seed is multiplied into "foundation" and "certified" seed, available for distribution to farmers, although the precise definitions of these terms are variable by country and region.
The formal seed system, in India and other countries, also serves to introduce newly developed or acquired varieties. CPRI has been very actively involved in the selection and release of new varieties, 35 to date since 1949 (Khurana 2002, p. 2). Most potatoes planted in the Indo-Gangetic Plain are of varieties released by CPRI, estimated at 93 percent in 1999 (WPC). In that year, CPRI produced approximately 2,600 tons of basic seed.
CPRI distributes basic seed via the departments of agriculture/horticulture of each state, which are in turn responsible for multiplication and distribution of certified seed. In practice, the quality and availability of certified seed is therefore quite variable by state. In some cases, local multiplication and distribution is accomplished with the active cooperation of local farmers. For example, in Meghalaya State, the Department of Horticulture supplies foundation seed to selected farmers who multiply and resell it to the department for subsequent distribution to other farmers. Depending on local needs, farmers might continue multiplying foundation seed into subsequent generations of seed which can still qualify as certified, e.g. certified 1/2/3 (Mohinder Singh Kadian, personal communication).
A national study undertaken in 1999 estimated that fewer than 25 percent of farmers were able to obtain healthy seed as and when needed to replace their debilitated stocks (WPC), suggesting that the seed system remains a constraint to further expansion of potato production in India, though not to the same extent as in many other tropical countries where potato is an important crop.
As a strategy to address this constraint, the "Seed Plot Technique" has been developed as a means to provide seed free of viral infection by harvesting tubers intended for seed prior to the development of aphid populations, building on the work noted above in the "Production Systems and Constraints" section under "Viral Infections" (Chandla et. al. 2003). Larger quantities of higher quality seed are now being produced on the plains of Punjab and Haryana in the north via this technique (Mohinder Singh Kadian, personal communication).
True Potato Seed (TPS), an alternative to clonal tuber reproduction, has been investigated by CIP for potential applications in several countries, although India is one of a few where TPS has been considered a potentially profitable alternative to reproduction strictly via the usual clonal propagation techniques.
- TPS is described in a 1997-98 program report, On-Farm Profitability of TPS.
CONSUMPTION, STORAGE, AND MARKETING
By estimated 2003 data, India's population of 1,065,462,000 consumed 25 million tons of potatoes, or about 23.5 kilograms annual per capita consumption. This is high by world standards, though still much less than countries where potato is the main staple (for example, Bolivia, where annual per capita consumption is over 90 kilograms). The high growth rate of potato production in India is likely to continue, primarily as a marketed cash crop more than as a rural staple. Although very little of the potato crop is processed on a larger industrial scale, homes and small businesses sell snack foods such as dehydrated and fried potato slices or shreds (Shekhawat et. al. 1992).
Potatoes have been adapted to Indian cuisine in several creative ways. A few dishes from the northwest include (Rhoades):
- Aloo Ka Paratha: prepared by pinrolling spiced and boiled potatoes in wheat dough and frying in butter. It mainly serves as an item on breakfast menus consumed with fresh yogurt or sweet butter milk;
- Aloo ki Tikki: a traditional snack item consisting of a patty of boiled potato, finely chopped onions, garlic and ginger previously marinated in a mélange of spices, and deep fried until golden brown in white butter. It is served hot with a sauce of tamarind and red pepper;
- Dum Aloo: a curry prepared with boiled potatoes mildly fried and cooked with sour curds, red tomatoes and served with a thick spicy gravy, garnished with finely chopped green coriander.
A major challenge to potato cultivation in India (especially the sub-tropical Indo-Gangetic Plain where nearly ninety percent of the crop is produced) has always been that, unlike temperate regions where the potato harvest is followed by a cold winter, the harvest in February and March is followed by the hot summer months. Refrigeration is necessary for potatoes which have to be stored until the following October.
Cold storage now takes place on a large scale, with over 3,400 facilities providing capacity to store over ten million tons (roughly 40 percent of total production). Approximately 60 percent of potatoes in cold storage are ware potatoes, intended for consumption, with the other 40 percent intended for seed. Storage for seed is usually at colder temperatures, 2º - 4º C (38º - 43º F), in order to prevent premature sprout growth. However, such cold temperatures induce high levels of sugar accumulation, rendering potatoes less suitable for consumption. Storage at a higher temperature range, around 10º C (50º F), is therefore better suited to ware potatoes. To inhibit sprout growth, a suppressant is often applied, most commonly CIPC (isopropyl N (3-chlorophenyl) carbamate), which checks growth by inhibiting cell division. CIPC has been in use since 1998. (Ezekiel et. al. 2003).
Cold storage facilities are usually commercial operations subject to some government regulation regarding rental rates and quality control, again variable by state. Local governments also provide subsidized loans for part of a cold storage investment. Farmers usually store their own produce in bags each weighing fifty kilograms (Mohinder Singh Kadian, personal communication). The local price of electricity is a key factor in rental rates and the viability of facilities; high electric bills have been cited as a reason for closure of some stores. Demand for cold storage facilities is high, and stores are usually filled to capacity during the peak season (Keith Fuglie, personal communication).
Short-term storage (generally from February until perhaps June) can be maintained on-farm using passive evaporative cooling, though such a facility represents a significant cash investment to most farmers.
- Hypothetical budgets are presented for a number of alternative designs in the 1996 CIP study, Improved Rustic Storage in South Asia.
Marketing of potatoes is essentially a private enterprise function, with the role of government agencies generally limited to providing information of supplies and prices, and some regulation, e.g. the promotion of standardized grading. However, as with other aspects of government administration, variations occur across state and local jurisdictions. Unlike several other commodities (such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, sugarcane, and jute), government policy does not provide price supports for the potato crop (Dahiya et. al. 2003). Nor has the government enforced quality standards, which some claim has hindered India's potential to develop a potato export industry (Anand 2002).
The strong seasonality of potato production combined with limited (or expensive) storage capacity often induces strong fluctuations in seasonal availability, hence price swings. Following the end of the main harvest in February, prices begin a rapid increase in April, and have often nearly doubled by July-August (Mehta and Ezekiel 2002). However, interannual fluctuations can also be strong, characterized by "potato gluts" and resulting price crashes, followed by reduced plantings and supplies the following year (Dahiya et. al. 2003).
- Further discussion can be found at the World Potato Congress site, Potato Production and Marketing in India.
RESEARCH FACILITIES AND CONTACTS
The South Asia Research Network maintains links to a wide variety of research, governmental, academic and cultural organizations, regionally as follows:
Kelly Theisen is the principal contributor to the initial (2006) India potato chapter.
Keith Fuglie and Mohinder Singh Kadian provided information and advice via personal communication.
Anand, Nikhil. 2002. Indian Potato Exports: Problems and Prospects. Journal of the Indian Potato Association 29 (1-2):77-80.
Arora, R.K.; P.H. Singh; B.P. Singh. 2003. Fungal Diseases and Their Management. In: Khurana, Minhas, and Pandey 2003 (op. cit.).
Banglapedia. (Article: Potato.) Last accessed 20 April, 2006.
Chandla, V.K.; T.P. Trivedi; S.M. Paul Khurana. Forewarning of Aphids. In: Khurana, Minhas, and Pandey 2003 (op. cit.).
Dahiya, P.S.; N.K. Pandey; R.K. Rana. 2003 Economics of Potato Production. In: Khurana, Minhas, and Pandey 2003 (op. cit.)
Davis, Mike. 2001. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. Verso. London and New York.
Devrajan, K.; N. Seenivasan, N. Selvaraj; G. Rajendran. 2004. An Integrated Approach for the Management of Potato Cyst Nematodes, Globodera rostochiensis and G. pallidia in India. Nematologia Mediterranea 32(1): 67-71.
Ezekiel, R.; Ashiv Mehta; Dinesh Kumar; Manish Das. 2003. Potato Storage. In: Khurana, Minhas, and Pandey 2003 (op. cit.).
FAOSTAT (Production/ Core Production Data)
Gadewar, Ashok V.; V. Sunaina; S.K. Chakrabarti. 2003. Bacterial Diseases of Potato and Their Management. In: Khurana, Minhas, and Pandey 2003 (op. cit.).
Govindakrishnan, P.M. and V.S. Kushwah. 2003. Low Input Technology for Potato Production. In: Khurana, Minhas, and Pandey 2003 (op. cit.).
Himachal Pradesh (Official website of the state, with links to various organizations, including Department of Agriculture.)
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