Growing international demand for potatoes from Bangladesh

Potato cultivation in Bangladesh

Potato cultivation in Bangladesh

March 24, 2023
Last year Bangladesh produced 11 million tons of potatoes, making it the third-largest producer in Asia. Potato exports from Bangladeshi farmers supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) continue to grow, as producers came together recently to celebrate another year of success.

Four producer co-operatives joined the fourth annual potato export inauguration in Rangpur – the country's main potato-growing region, reads a press release. Last year Bangladesh produced 11 million tons of potatoes – making it the third-largest producer in Asia, after China and India – of which it exported nearly 0.8 million tons.

More than a third of potato exports went to Malaysia, a fifth went to Nepal and a fifth went to Sri Lanka. Other countries that imported potatoes from Bangladesh includes Myanmar, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Brunei, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, and Lebanon. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture are looking to start exports to Russia, Fiji, and Viet Nam.

Potatoes are an important cash crop with the potential to transform the lives of those who produce them. For the last four years, potato producer organizations in Rangpur have been producing export-quality potatoes by employing "good agricultural practices" – a collection of principles for safe and healthy farming and processing – with training from FAO.

Rangpur produces a quarter of the nation's potatoes. One of the best performing districts for export-quality potato production was Thakurgaon Sadar. This year, potato growers are expecting a good harvest, and they already have a contract with the Bangladesh Potato Exporters' Association (BPEA).

Farmers started to grow a new potato variety called "Sunshine", intended specifically for export. It is quick-growing and achieves high yields. The success of the export initiative is due to a partnership between the Sara Bangla Krishak Society (SBKS), a national network of farmers' organizations, and FAO under its "Missing Middle Initiative" project.

Together, they worked with the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC), Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), and BPEA. Robert D Simpson, FAO Representative in Bangladesh, who attended the event, stressed that potato production is part of an agricultural export strategy but that it is also important to invest in value addition.

Robert D Simpson:
"FAO is working with the government to increase exports of key crops, including potatoes, as part of a long-term vision to transform the country's agriculture sector. With the right support, Bangladeshi potato producers are able to meet growing international demand in a competitive market. This is a successful model for other crops."

"But we also need to consider other potato varieties and invest in processing – this will keep value addition in Bangladesh and meet growing national demand for potato-based products such as chips."
A business session was held at a potato farmer's field with participants from FAO, the government, potato producer organizations, and farmers. At a side event, farmers displayed local and improved varieties of potatoes.

There was also a meeting with regional agricultural extension officers and research agencies. Wahida Akter, secretary, the Ministry of Agriculture, was the chief guest.

Speakers at a business discussion included Abdullah Sazzad, chairman and additional secretary, Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC); Badal Chandra Biswas, director general, DAE; Md Aftab Hossain, additional director, DAE, Rangpur; Salma Rahman, managing director, Agronomy Export-Import Ltd; Zakir Hossain, general secretary, Bangladesh Potato Exporters Association (BPEA); and Salma Akhter, potato grower, Dhantola Potato Producer Cooperative.

An important part of the export success has been the linkages made between farmers and exporters.

FAO has facilitated this in the spirit of its Hand-in-Hand initiative which aims to accelerate the market-based transformation of agrifood systems through a robust partnership-building approach. Secretary Wahida Akter praised the collaboration, saying that it was "paying off" in terms of competitive potato exports.

Imanun Nabi Khan, Co-ordinator of the MMI National Project:
"We link farmers with exporters – this Matchmaking creates a win-win business relationship. Potato growers get a fair price and exporters take the opportunity to inspect the quality and ensure transport from the farm to the port."

"This business model, based on FAO's Hand-in-Hand initiative, is effective and scalable."
Potato farmers looking to export face a number of challenges, including limited cold storage capacity, absence of standard phyto-sanitary labs, lack of knowledge about good agricultural practices, and difficulties accessing markets.

To increase market access, for the last four years before each potato season, FAO, DAE, and BADC, have organized a buyer-seller meeting for officials from BPEA to meet smallholder potato farmers. Officials from the BPEA liaised with foreign buyers to get specifications and orders.

The Ministry of Agriculture is sharing good agricultural practices with farmers throughout the country. The formulation of a Bangla GAP policy is almost complete, reads the press release. Work is also in progress to set up advanced laboratories to meet exporters' sanitary and phyto-sanitary requirements.

FAO's MMI project, funded by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), has had great success in working with the Ministry of Agriculture and the producer organization apex, SBKS, to establish digital villages and build strong rural institutions that provide innovative agribusiness services to smallholder farmers.

It has empowered smallholders by providing them with access to finance through revolving loan funds, digital accounting, digital literacy training, and virtual meetings.
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