Storage capacity is a subject of confusion rather than planning, according to Chaudhry Maqsood Jutt, President of the Potato, Vegetable and Fruit Growers Cooperative Society in Pakistan. He says the Pakistani government does not have credible figures of total crop area, crop production or storage.
For example, the provincial government insists that potato production is at 4.3 million tonnes. The figure could be well over 10m tonnes, Jutt says. Similarly, there are no accurate storage figures available. Okara district, the main potato producing area, has over 2.5m tonnes of storage capacity, which fills to the brim every season.
In the last few years, new storage facilities were built by investors from Sargodha. While the capacity is sufficient, there are operational issues. Firstly, the cost of storage has become a deterrent. Storage owners charge Rs450 per bag for a season. Cost of a bag is Rs200 and labour charges add another Rs100. This adds Rs6.5 per kg to the cost.
With exports slowing down, for the last two years no farmer has been able to recoup this cost, said Mr Jutt. Storage charges are prohibitive because the initial investment is massive at around Rs2,000 per bag. This adds up to Rs60m, excluding the cost of land. Cost of running a storage is exorbitant as well, mainly due to electricity.
To make matters worse, storage owners do not take responsibility for potatoes rotting in case of electricity failures. There is no insurance system in place. Entire stores of produce have gone to waste due to this. At Rs3,000 per bag, potato seeds are costly. If 100 bags of seed rot, farmers suffer irreparable losses. Thus, instead of building storage capacity, the regulation of existing capacity is needed.