Farmer innovations in potato storage: a case of Malwa tract of Madhya Pradesh

V.S. Khatana, P.S. Dahiya and S.G. Ilangantileke

Potato is a commercial crop in the Malwa tract of Madhya Pradesh. Owing to its higher comparative profitability, the area under its cultivation extended to most of the irrigated fields and replaced some crops like wheat, over the last 30-40 years. Potato tubers can not be stored long without proper storage facilities, and if sold soon after harvest the profit margin lessens. Cold storage facilities in this area are not sufficient and also expensive.

(There is an old saying that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Farmers in their efforts to enhance the profitability from potato cultivation stored potatoes in pits, heaps and houses – storage in pits was also espoused by the agricultural officials about a century back.)

It is a well accepted fact that farmers are researchers in their own right. They started experimenting with pit storage and refined to a level where they can store large quantities for a period of up to 120 days.  They have various types of pits different material, different shapes, depths, etc.  For short term storage of up to 60 days they store in heaps covered with grass and/or sugarcane leaves. Sugarcane leaves now has a market in the areas of Malwa tract where potatoes are grown. The importance of this type of indigenous storage has further increased with a spur in processing of potatoes, particularly organised processing.  Processors of brand names like Pepsico, Uncle Chips, Hello Agro Foods etc. were looking for fresh potatoes after April-May when such potatoes were not available in the market.

Conversion of starch into sugar renders cold stored potatoes unfit for processing into quality products. Thus Malwa tract became the hunting ground for all the processors in the months of June and up to mid-July. They based their staff there and appointed local agents from various towns and villages of Malwa. This gave rise to prices of locally stored potatoes and potato storage in pits became very profitable – so much so that farmers have gone for large investments up to few lakh rupees in making brick lined and RCC pits

On‑farm Potato Storage

In the Malwa Region, on‑farm storage is popular, particularly in Ujjain, Dewas, Indore, and Shajapur districts. This study is based on farmers’ expereinecs in some villages like Dattotar and Badkumed in Dewas district where  majority of the farmers grow potato and on‑farm potato storage methods have been adopted on a wide scale. Farmers utilize various storage techniques to keep their potatoes for periods of up to 2‑4 months, generally up to the end of June and, in certain cases up to the middle of July.

The main varieties cultivated in the area are Kufri Jyoti and Kufri Laukar. The survey of 60 potato farmers from 6 villages of Dewas and Ujjain districts belonging to various classes of holding sizes, revealed that about 43% of the produce is sold within 15 days of harvest, about 12% is stored in cold stores mainly for seed, about 40% is stored on-farm and part of remaining about 5% is kept for home consumption and part is wasted in handling.  Presented here are the details of on-farm storage structures and the economics of storing potatoes in them. The size, material used and the type of pit also influenced by the  amount of potato to be stored, duration and also the resources of the farmer.

Storage methods

Farmers use different on‑farm storage methods including heaps, kachi hodi (pits), pakki hodi (a pit with brick‑lined walls); kotha (in‑house storage); and talghar (basement storage).  The first three methods have become quite popular with farmers because of (1) the low cost of construction, (2) the ease of construction with local material, (3) economic gains made through sale of potatoes to processors within 2‑4 months, (4) shortage of cold storage space, (5) freedom to dispose produce conveniently, (6) savings because of non-payment of ‘high’ cold storage tariffs, etc. These storage methods are described below with special reference to dimensions, capacity, type of construction material used, type of covering material used, cost of construction, and storage period.

Heaps: The heap method is a very simple way of storing potatoes for periods of up to two months.  Heaps  are made in the field under the shade of trees (Mango, Tamarind, Babool, Neem).  The dimension of the heap depends upon the quantity of potatoes stored.  Generally, the length and breadth are 4.5 metres and 3.0 metres, while the height varies between 1.3 to 2 metres (average 1.8 metres).  On average, the surveyed farmers stored 33 t of potatoes in one field heap.  Some farmers had more than one heap.  Farmers using this method dispose of potato by the end of April.  Storage in heaps involves less labour and cost and avoids the common problems like rotting.

The heap method is the cheapest way to store potatoes.  It costs roughly Rs 1,000 to store about 35 t of potatoes.  On a per ton basis, the cost of storage is only Rs 28 (table).  Locally available material such as baloondi (sugarcane leaves) or grass is used for covering the potatoes.  The baloondi cover is kept up to 60 cm thick and, in the case of a grass cover, the thickness is limited to 30 cm.  In the event of rains, a tarpaulin is used to protect the potatoes.

Table 1: Cost of on-farm storage (Rs/t) in Dewas and Ujjain district, 1995-96.

Method Depreciation Covering material Labour Monetary Value of  storage losses Total
Kachi hodi (pit) 27 43 53 353 476
Pakki hodi (brick-lined pit) 16 13 53 440 522
Heap store (field)* 0 17 22 171 210
Room store(in-house) 8 15 25 190 238
Talghar (basement) 10 0 39 154 203

* Potatoes in heaps are stored generally for periods up to 45 days.

Cost of storing in cold store is Rs 1172/t from March to September 30.

Kachi hodi: The pit method is locally called Kachi hodi or gaddha.  It is quite a popular storage method, particularly with semi‑medium and small farmers.  This is attributable to the low investment in digging and maintaining pits.  The hodis (pits) are dug under shade trees. it is considered quite good if the soil at the bottom of the pit is muram (yellow soil).  In these cases tuber rottage has been found to be low.  The useful life of these pits is 5 years, but they require annual maintenance and cleaninThe pit is filled with potatoes up to a point 30‑60 cm below the ground surface.  Potatoes are, then covered with sugar cane leaves of 50‑60 cm thick as a protection from the sun and heat.  The pits are of two kinds: (a) without tapri (roof) and (b) with tapri.  The height of the roof varies from 30 cm to 150 cm and it has a cover of Kavelu (tiles made of baked mud) or sugar cane leaves or Kadbi (sorghum stalks), or a mixture of two covering materials.  Generally, a sugar cane  cover is used as roof for potatoes.

(Farmers use pits of various dimensions depending on the need to store potatoes.  In the surveyed area, dimensions of kachi hodis varied from 1.9 x 1.3 x 1.0 m (length x breadth x depth) to 6.5 x 2.6 x 3.2 m. In most cases, the depth varied from 1.6 to 3.2 m. Average dimensions are 4.8 x 3.0 x 2.4 m. Farmers store 8‑56 t of potatoes in pits.)  Most pits are dug to accommodate about 30 t of potatoes.  If farmers have more potatoes to store, they dig more than one pit. It costs about Rs 3,418 to construct a kachi hodi with a roof 57 % of it is on labour expenses.  On a per ton basis, this costs Rs 123.

 Pakki hodi: This is a pit store generally having brick or R.C.C. walls. The pakki hodi method of potato storage is gaining ground with medium and large farmers mainly because its useful life is 50 years. However, small and semi‑medium farmers did not opt for the pakki hodi method because of the heavy investment required and the reportedly higher losses in certain cases.  Pakki hodis require small repairs once every 10 years or so, while kachi hodis have to be de-silted every year and be dug afresh in some cases.  The method of storing in a pakki hodi is the same as described above for kachi hodis.  Muram (yellow soil) is preferred at the bottom of the pakki hodis as well.

The average dimensions of the pakki hodis are 4.6 x 3.8 x 3.9 m. However, the length and width vary from 4.2 x 3.2 m to 12.9 x 4.7 m having depths from 3.2 to 4.8 m. The average capacity of pakki hodis is 42 t, which costs the farmer about Rs 28,400.  The cost varies according to the size as well as material used for building the walls and roofs.  One large holder in Dattotar Village, Dewas District, had built a pakki hodi with a capacity of over 100 t with an R.C.C. roof at a height of 3.3 m’ brick walls, and a bottom of earth and stones.  It cost him Rs 250,000 to build this type of pakki hodi.  The storage period for the pakki hodis is up to the end of June, even though farmers start selling potatoes beginning in April, depending on prices

 Table :. Costs of pit storage*(kachi hodi) in Dewas and Ujjain districts, 1995‑96.

Items  Amount (Rs)  % of total cost
Labour for digging 1,935 57
Bamboos for roof (tapri) 494 14
Covering material** 489 14
Tarpaulin sheet 500 15
Total 3,418 100

*For a hodi of average dimensions (length x width x depth) are 4.8 x 3.0 x 2.4 metres.

**Sugarcane leaves, as stalks are used as covering material.

Farmers’ Storage Behaviour

Owing to better holding capacity, it is mainly the medium and large fanners store potatoes for various  purposes. Growers have been using the on‑farm storage methods described above for well over a decade.  In fact, the large farmers’ experience goes back about two decades.  However, small farmers started storing potatoes using these methods only 3 years ago when they learned that short‑term storage resulted in potato sales at more remunerative prices. During the survey period, potatoes stored on‑farm sold for Rs 1.50/kg more than cold‑stored potatoes.  It is interesting to note that a majority of the farmers (56%) stored potatoes for four months (March‑June) followed by 36% for three months, 7% for two months, and 2% for only one month.

The highest weight losses reported in potato storage were in pakki hodis.  Losses for potatoes stored using this method varied somewhat with time.  Till March‑April, they were  4%, from mid-March to mid‑May 5%, and from mid‑March to mid‑June 9%.  Losses were lower over the same periods in kachi hodis (4%, 5%, and 9%), heaps (2%, 4%, and 9%). These estimated losses are based on farmers’ perceptions.  However, it is important to note that most farmers are not able to properly visualize the weight losses and, as such, their guestimates differ considerably.

Overall, the largest quantities of potatoes (43 t) were stored in pits, both kachi and pakki hodis, followed by field heaps (30 t).  Semi‑medium farmers stored more in field heaps (29 t) than in pits (15 t). Kachi hodis were more popular among surveyed farmers because they cost less to construct and result in lower storage losses.

 Economics of on‑farm storage

The economics of on‑farm storage are calculated on the basis of the storage costs (cost of structure, cost of covering material, labour costs, and the monetary value of the storage losses) and the difference in price for the potatoes when storing versus when selling.  The highest storage cost, Rs 520/t, was for pakki hodi, followed by kachi hodi (Rs 480/t) and field heaps (Rs 2 1 0/t). Selling in the market involves an additional cost of Rs 355/t for transport.

Growers using pakki hodis reported the highest net returns of Rs 2,390/t.  The returns on kachi hodis and field heaps are reported to be Rs 900/t and Rs 850/t respectively.  Potatoes stored in field heaps and kachi hodis are sold earlier, in May and June, and do not fetch as high a price as in July.  This explains the lower returns on a per unit basis in kachi hodis.  Small and semi‑medium growers store in field heaps and kachi hodis because they cannot take high risks. Large farmers earned the highest gross returns of Rs 184,516 per farm household, followed by the medium farm households of (Rs 39,312), semi‑medium, (Rs 14,850), and small farmers (Rs 5,166) (Table 2).

Farmers with large holdings earned more because they stored larger quantities and were able to store for longer periods.  Some times farmers have suffered losses also in pit storage.  There is no mecahnism by which the condition of stored potatoes may be monitored.  It may look good in the upper layer but all rotten inside.  Storabilty of potato is governed by various pre and post harvest factors.

Farmers’ innovations become a research agenda

After a collaborative study conducted by International Potato Center (CIP) and Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) found these practices economically profitable,  All India Coordinated Potato Improvement Project (AICPIP) has included some of the practices in the trials conducted by AICPIP Centers located in different agro-ecologies of the country to carry out scientific research on these practices so that low cost potato storage may be designed and popularised for the benefit of those farmers who want to hold back their potatoes for small periods of 1-3 months after harvest.

V.S. Khatana, AME, Bangalore.

P.S. Dahiya, CPRI, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

S.G. Ilanagantileke, CIP, Region -SWA, IARI Campus, New Delhi – 110 012

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