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Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI), Shimla, HP
Farmers and cold storage owners in India (Agra, UP) have lauded the decision to lift the ban on import of seed potatoes.

Farmers said the government's decision would enable them to produce better quality of potatoes. They also felt that easy access to imported potato seeds would increase their annual yield. Rakesh Garg, senior vice president of Agra Cold Storage Association, said, "These decisions were long awaited. There has been a huge difference between demand and supply of potato seeds in the country. The new decision has opened doors for farmers to import better quality seeds. It will also fill the void between demand and supply indices."

Prior to the ban, farmers found it tough to increase their produce due to a variety of reasons. State horticulture departments procured certified seeds from the Shimla-based central potato research institute (CPRI) and then distributed it to the farmers. But problems cropped up due to uneven distribution of seeds.

A report commissioned by the Dutch government to examine the potato sector in India stated that 97% of the seeds planted by potato growers were of a degenerated (used) stock. The report implied that 3% of the potato seeds actually came from CPRI, meaning that potato cultivators bore the brunt of the seed ban. It concluded that the ban, and over-reliance on CPRI, "restricted the development of the potato industry in the country".

The government's reasons to import ban was to promote indigenous seeds, and mitigate the risk of pests.

Lifting the ban on import of seeds earlier this week, Union ministry of agriculture Radha Mohan Singh said the imported seeds would first be tested in labs at the CPRI for virus before the farmers could get hold of them. Moreover, to deal with the scarcity of high quality certified seeds, the ministry has decided that all the agriculture universities and the national seed cooperation would be provided seeds for multiplication by the CPRI. The seeds would then be evenly distributed among farmers.

The decisions were taken during a meeting between the Union agriculture minister, members of cold storage association and seed traders. Fatehpur Sikri MP Chaudhary Babulal also attended the meet.

Agra is one of the biggest potato-producing region in North India, often termed as the potato belt of the country. It alone contributes 10% of India's total production. Overall, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal contribute 60% of potato production with both sharing almost equal percentage.

The farmers sell their produce to businessmen across the country through the owners of 216 cold storage chains located in the district.
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