High on quality, often too high in quantity

Long before the snow eventually descends on the 13,050-foot Rohtang Pass and Lahaul-Spiti, which will cut this tribal district off the rest of Himachal Pradesh for the next seven months, more than two lakh bags of seed potato grown in the Lahaul valley have already been transported to Manali for storage and marketing.

The market has been favourable this year. Forty per cent of the produce has already been sold as food potato, fetching prices in the range of Rs 1,600 to Rs 2,300 per quintal.

Harvested in October, the Lahaul seed potato of the state's tribal belt remains in high demand, though overproduction has often been a problem, while farmers have been looking at other options. Two popular varieties grown in the area, Kufri chandramukhi and Kufri jyoti, have the highest demand among potatoes from the states that produce it.

"Seed potato grown in the Lahaul valley is rated the best in the world, both for its quality and for its quantity," says N K Pandey, a senior scientists and researcher at the Shimla-based Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI). "The weather conditions and soil factors in the valley are so favourable that the area can produce up to 500 quintals per hectare. Currently it has been between 300 to 400 quintals per hectare, which too is very good. Potato farming has really transformed the local economy in the past four decades."

The working season is limited to five months. Last year had brought a bumper season to potato growers, with more than three lakh bags reaching Manali before the snow arrived in the valley and Rohtang Pass. "It was a complete washout. More than half the produce rotted in Manali. It was a problem of plenty with no buyers. The conditions were bad also for potato growers in Punjab, who dumped their produce on the roads, and in Maharashtra, Gujarat and West Bengal," says Amar Chand Dogra, managing director of Lahaul Potato Growers' Cooperative Society. "This year, there is a demand for food and seed potato. The prices too are good."

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