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Onion import to stabilise market

June 02, 2023 00:00:00

The onion market is turning volatile much to the dismay of the general consumers who have their backs already to the wall due to skyrocketing prices of the essential commodities. With the Eid-ul-Adha, a major Muslim religious festival, about a month away, it is feared that the price of this vital ingredient for cooking may go up still further. Going by a report carried by the May 31 issue of this paper, onion was selling between Tk 80 and Tk 95 a kilogramme (kg) at different retail markets in the city on May 30, whereas the day before, the prices of this vegetable ranged between Tk75 and Tk 85 a kg. That is about a jump by Tk 5.0 to Tk10 per kg of the kitchen item within the span of a day.

Now that the price of this crucial cooking ingredient has about doubled within a month, the commerce minister reportedly requested the agriculture ministry to allow import of onion to stabilise the market. However, the agriculture ministry which keeps track of the crop at its production level has been rather cautious before giving the green signal to the decision of its import. To all appearances, this delay has to do with protecting the interests of the onion farmers who suffered losses as they had to sell this perishable crop below its production cost at the beginning of the season, according to the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE). In fact, wholesalers at local markets near the production hubs of onion take undue advantage of farmers' lack of storage facilities to preserve onion for long after its harvest. So, farmers had reportedly to sell it at prices ranging from Tk17 to Tk 19 a kg since the beginning of the season till the end of April, though the production cost of onion was between Tk24 and Tk 25 per kg.

So, it appears, they might have stopped selling their product at further losses thereby pushing up its price. But experts on the issue are of the view that the harvest season being over, farmers have no further stock of onion to sell at a higher price to make up for their losses, if any. Moreover, some economists have questioned the very credibility of the data on onion production because last year's (2022) figures as provided by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) respectively differ markedly. To be exact, there is a difference of 1.0 million tonnes between MoA's figure at 3.7 million tonnes and that of BBS's at 2.7 million tonnes.

Given such serious discrepancies, one wonders, how would the ministries concerned assess onion's stock situation to decide whether, when and what amount of the essential kitchen item to import aimed at keeping its price within the reach of common consumers? So, whatever the reason for delay in taking the decision on onion import, it amounted to dithering on the part of the government over the matter. Obviously, it has sent the wrong signal to the syndicates behind the instability of the onion market. Small wonder that the onion market has now started behaving in a way that reminds one of the fallout from India's slapping ban on onion export in September 2019, when by the end of December of that year the price of the edible bulb went literally through the ceiling selling at Tk 300 per kg in the city's kitchen markets. As things stand, the government should, without further delay, take a firm decision on onion import before the syndicates take full control of the market.

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