Farmers will start onion cultivation in the country within a month. Murikata (early variety) onions will start to appear in the market in mid-December. However, this onion cannot be stored. Onions produced from seeds will be harvested in March. The farmers can increase production if they get a good price.
Onion production increased this year due to good prices last year. According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), the country produced about 2.5 million tonnes of onions last season, which is about 220,000 tonnes more than the previous year.
According to the ministry of agriculture, the total demand for onions in the country is about 2.8 million tonnes. A significant quantity of the onions produced in the country is wasted during storage, leading to import of 800,000 tonnes every year, most of which come from India.
India stopped onion export last Monday to meet the demand of its own market. Following the ban, onion prices in Bangladesh almost doubled the following day. The commerce ministry last year called to impose tariff on onion import to boost production in the country. A small (5 per cent) import duty has also been imposed in the budget this year. Concerned persons say farmers can produce onions in the country if provided proper protection, just as Bangladesh has become self-sufficient in rice and beef after imports stopped.
Agriculture minister Abdur Razzak told Prothom Alo, "We will soon achieve self-sufficiency in onion production. We have been dependent only on the production during winter. Now several varieties of summer onions have been developed and farmers are growing these varieties. The overall production has been boosted in this manner.”
When farmers grow onions, imports should be stopped (February to April), so that the farmers get good prices.
He said the country is expected to become self-sufficient in onions in a few years.
The DAE says the amount of land under onion cultivation also increased by about 30,000 hectares last season. Bari Onion-6, invented by Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), gave good yield last year. Researchers of the institute hope that the cultivation of this variety of onion will increase further this year.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) conducted a study in 2014 on onion production, market and economy in Bangladesh. It is said that if they get a good price, the farmers grow more next year. From 2014 to 2018, the growth rate of onion production in the country is 8 to 10 per cent. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Bangladesh made its place on the list of top 10 onion producing countries in the world four years ago. This year, Bangladesh ranks eighth on the list.
According to the DAE, cost of onion production in the country was Tk 15 per kg. And the farmers sell the onion for Tk 20 to 30. Most of the time onions are sold in the market at Tk 40 to 50. From September to December the price increased up to Tk 100. This year, the production cost of onion per kg in different district is Tk 18 to 20.
Hamidur Rahman, former director general of DAE, told Prothom Alo, “When farmers grow onions, imports should be stopped (February to April), so that the farmers get good prices.”
According to BARI scientists, there are now 10 popular varieties of onions in the country. There are three varieties of summer onion. The rest are winter varieties. Around 90 per cent of onions in the country grow in winter. The production of summer onions is also gradually increasing. However, Bangladesh still lags far behind the global average production rate of onions. The average standard production is 18 tonnes per hectare. The average yield in Bangladesh is 11 tonnes. However, the yield per hectare has increased by three tonnes in four years.
Research director of BARI, Miaz Uddin said that a good variety of onion like Bari-6 is capable of yielding more than 18 tonnes per hectare.
“If it becomes popular, onion production will increase further,” he added.
The Bangladesh Competition Commission conducted a study with the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) last year. A senior research fellow at the institute, Nazneen Ahmed, told Prothom Alo on Wednesday, "We need to build infrastructure for onion conservation to sustain production growth. We also need to increase investment in research for seed development.”
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat