March 24, 2010
A potato farmer, Maktabul Hussein, only 18 years old, committed suicide today in Jalpaiguri, in West Bengal. Why? Because the price of potatoes have dropped so much that he could not make up the money to pay back the Rs. 500,000/- loans he had taken to cultivate his land.
Maktabul was getting only Rs. 1.80/kg for his potatoes. And this is what is bizarre! Over the last few months everyone in town has been complaining about how the cost of potatoes has been soaring, along with that of onions, lentils and rice. At one point potatoes was selling for Rs.20/kg! If the middle-class was feeling the pinch, just imagine how it has been for the poor. Potato after all has been the poor’s sustenance! What more – recently the West Bengal government announced that there has been such a surplus of potatoes that they are going to be exporting them!
What are we supposed to gather from this? Is there a potato cartel at work here? That odious middle-man? Does he hoard the potatoes – and rips off the poor farmer who breaks his back cultivating it. And then turns around rips off the customers by charging them 10 times the cost?
In the book Needless Hunger, the authors show that it was exactly this kind of food cartel that had resulted in Bangladesh’s famine, when hundreds died of starvation.