Attain self-sufficiency in producing onion
The price of onion has been skyrocketed for last two consecutive years in Bangladesh when India banned its export of onions. Last year's export banning of India with no notice is a lesson for us, which prompts us to think for avoiding dependence on India for imported onions. To tackle the crisis of last year, the government started open market sales across the country and imported onions from Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, China and Myanmar. But this good initiative of the government could hardly give relief to the people from all walks of life from spending exorbitant prices on the kitchen staple.
We use onion almost in every dish as a common ingredient. But, because of repeated bans on onion exports by India, every year tension arises in onion market. Sometimes, price of onion reached at Tk 300.00 per kg and sometimes people can purchase 1 kg for Tk 25.00. This happens because of the country's dependency on imports for 43 per cent of its total onion consumptions. In the year 2019, the country produced 23.30 lakh tons of onion, yet 10.91 lakh tons more was imported in the fiscal year 2019-20. About 95 per cent of import is from India.
Making the country self-sufficient in onion by increasing the production of this essential cooking ingredient is only the way of avoiding import dependency. According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), to attain self-sufficiency on onion, we have to set target to produce 33 lakh tonnes of onion a year. Experts of agricultural sector uttered with hope that it will not be a big task to increase average production at 33 lakh tonnes of onion a year, if we can proceed with realistic planning and right policies.
Currently, farmers are cultivating onions in around 2.5 lakh hectares of land. Around 10 lakh tonnes are produced in one hectare, on average. Globally around 17 tonnes per hectare onion is produced, while it is only 10 tonnes per hectare in our country. But we have the potential to increase the average onion production up to 12 to 13 tonnes per hectare, if the government provides seeds of high-yielding varieties of onion and fertiliser to farmers at subsidised prices.
Lack of quality seeds, lack of integrated cultivation, price fluctuations, lack of conservation system, not using char area and not paying attention to summer onions are the major hindrance of attaining increased onion production. To attain self-sufficiency in onion production, the agro-specialists have suggested following six steps:
Ensuring seeds availability: There are shortages of quality onion seeds in our country. We need a total of 1100 tonnes of onion seeds each year, but our government and private sectors only can supply 80-90 tonnes and the rest is produced by the farmers. Sometimes, we have to import onion seeds from abroad. To minimise the onion shortage to zero in the future, we need to focus on ensuring good quality seed productions.
Unified cultivation: Emphasis should be given on integrated cultivation to increase total acreage of onion plantations. With proper policies and plans, onion can be cultivated with many other crops such as sugarcane, corn, ginger, etc in the same land. If cultivated in this way, we don't need any additional land to meet the demand of onion.
Price stability: Fluctuation of the onion price is one of the major reasons of onion deficit. Both increase and decrease of price can affect the onion cultivation. When price of onions goes extremely upward, most farmers sell their onion seeds because of rising prices and we face seeds shortage in the very next year. On the other hand, tremendous decreasing of the price discourages farmers to cultivate onions in the next year. The government should fix an optimum price of onion to keep farmers' interest un-interrupted on onion cultivation.
Develop preservation system: The preservation system of onion is not well organised and developed in our country. Onion needs a temperature of 12-20 degrees centigrade and 35-45 of humidity. We don't have any cold storage where we can control the humidity in our country. Farmers preserve their onions in their own method, which is not enough. So, we face the post-harvest loss every year. It is estimated that wastage after production of onion is almost 30 per cent. If we develop our storage facility, we can reduce this post-harvest loss of onions, which ultimately contribute in achieving self-sufficiency in onion production.
Production in summer season: Around 90 per cent of onion produced in our country is cultivated in winter season. But recently, SRC (Spice Research Center) of BARI (Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute) released three varieties of onions which can be produced in summer. These onions can be harvested in March to July. So, if we focus on cultivating summer onions, a large part of the demand can be fulfilled.
Paying attention to use char area: At present, we are using2.37 lakh hectares land for onion cultivation in our country. But there are vast chars in Bangladesh which are suitable for onion cultivation. Experts believe that if we can bring those chars under onion cultivation, it will be possible to produce 9-10 lakh tons of onions additionally.
In onion cultivation, we may not eliminate the problem of shortage of seeds, storage facility, stable pricing, etc. overnight. However, experts believe that the right policies, plans and initiatives can reduce the onion shortage to zero in coming years. These will help us evade import dependency of onion.
The writer is an Executive Director, Voluntary Consumers Training and Awareness Society (VOCTA)