Chitwan farmers are happy after switching to potatoesThey used to plant mustard or wheat which pay less and require more effort, they say.
Farmers' fields in Kharkhutte are a scene of hectic activity as the potatoes planted after the paddy harvest are ready for sale.
Farmers do not have to worry about finding buyers for their potato crop as traders come to take them directly from the fields to market. Farmers return home with money in their pockets. Local villagers earn millions annually by selling potatoes.
Kharkhutte village of Kathar lies in East Chitwan Khairhani Municipality-10 about 5 kilometres south of the East-West Mahendra Highway. Potato cultivation is flourishing here.
Unlike in other places, the farmers here grow blue potatoes as there is big demand for them in the market. Farmer Krishna Aryal of Kharkhutte said that the potatoes dug up from the fields are dispatched straight to market.
Dhanraj Upreti has planted potatoes on three bighas of land. On Saturday, 15-20 farmhands were digging up potatoes in his field while four to five others were busy weighing them.
Upreti was telling his workers to hurry up as a trader was bringing a vehicle to transport the potatoes to market. Phirla Chaudhary came looking for a weighing machine. He also had to weigh his potatoes and ship them.
When he did not find a spare pair of weighing scales, he went to the field of Krishna Aryal who was digging up his potatoes. He had planted a lot of potatoes and he had started harvesting them on 6 katthas on Saturday. "The truck came to the field to take 100 bags of potato," he said.
A farmer can harvest 100 bags of potatoes from 6 katthas of land. Aryal has dug up the potatoes from 19 mounds. Chaudhary wandered around trying to find a spare weighing machine.
Farmers started growing potato in Kharkhutte in 1999. Aryal began planting potato about the same time. The potato acreage then totalled 10 bighas. Aryal had planted potatoes on 8 katthas. He expanded his potato farm and is now operating Aryal Multipurpose Agricultural Firm together with his brothers. According to him, they cultivate potatoes on 7 hectares.
Farmers in Kharkhutte now grow potatoes on 200 bighas of land. Potato farming has spread to nearby villages and the acreage has increased to 250 bighas. There are farmers who earn Rs2.2 million annually by selling potatoes.
On average, each kattha of land yields 5-10 quintals of potato, and farmers can easily get Rs40 per kg for their crops.
"We plant three types of potatoes—Nepali red potato and two varieties of blue potato, one is MS and the other is the British blue diamond type," Aryal said. The production of British blue potato is the highest while the production of other varieties is comparatively less, he said.
According to him, 70 percent of the potatoes grown in the village are blue potatoes and the rest are red potatoes. Aryal said that the village earned around Rs150 million from selling potatoes last year.
Chaudhary has planted potatoes on 9 katthas. Farmers used to plant mustard or wheat after harvesting paddy. The work was hard and they earned around Rs250,000 from these crops. Chaudhary said he had now doubled his income by growing potatoes and with less effort.
This is the main reason why villagers are switching to growing potatoes after harvesting their paddy crop. Most of the potatoes produced in Kharkhutte are sold in Pokhara. The potatoes grown here are starting to appear in Kathmandu and eastern Nepal too.
Farmers in Kharkhutte plant the Agauto variant of paddy that becomes ready for harvest in mid-October. Potatoes planted after that are usually ready within 120 days. Aryal said that they dig up the potatoes after 70 days only as traders start to come to buy them.
In the beginning of the season, the price is good so there is a rush to harvest the potatoes early. Farmers plant maize after they have sold their potato crop which is sold when it starts fruiting. The cash crop cycle has started in Kharkhutte.