Govt plans to become surplus country in onion production by increasing regions
Faced with regular fluctuations in export-import and price spirals in onions due to even minor shortfalls, the Centre has been working on a strategy to become a surplus country in this edible bulb permanently by increasing regions in ‘non-traditional’ growing States. According to authorities, if the strategy is successful, domestic prices would remain consistent throughout the year.
Onion growing was mostly limited to Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Rajasthan, which supplied the whole country’s needs due to deficits in most other states. An agricultural ministry official stated that there has been a tremendous rise in the area in Madhya Pradesh, approximately 50% to 173.89 lakh hectares in just four years (between 2016 and 2019).
‘Within a few years, there will be a steady supply of onions throughout the year. It was realized that focusing on one specific geographical location has certain risks since it has been discovered that any slight harm to the crop may have a major influence in pushing up prices,’ said AK Singh, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) deputy director-general (horticulture).
Diversification of crops
Singh stated that when the notion of growing onions was promoted among farmers in Uttar Pradesh’s Mirzapur area two years ago, they were willing to change away from paddy, and many farmers are pleased that their revenue has increased compared to prior years as a result of crop diversification. ‘Right now, we’re planning to assist farmers in Ladakh to cultivate onions on a commercial basis,’ Singh explained.
However, there is a varietal difficulty for onion in Ladakh since farmers in that region now cultivate long-duration varieties from April to October that mature in six months, but crops on the plains mature in four months, according to an agricultural scientist. Furthermore, the shelf life of crops in high altitudes needs to be increased from the existing one month, he said, adding that trials are being undertaken and at least three years of constant yield should be achieved.
Onion is cultivated in three seasons in India: early-Kharif (February-April in the southern area, May-June in Maharashtra), late-Kharif (August-September), and rabi (October) (October-November). The crop thrives in temperatures ranging from 13 to 24 degrees Celsius.
Officials stated that similar to the self-sufficiency achieved in sugarcane since India was previously experiencing a scarcity every fourth year, there is also a need to focus on onion. Though some experts have recommended adding value by making onion flakes or powder, the customer preference is now for fresh onion, and there must be a secure supply, according to a ministry official.
As part of several price-control measures, the Centre restricted export in September 2020 and lifted it in January 2021. It also set a stock limit in October 2020 under the Essential Commodities Act. Export was also prohibited for around six months in September 2019.
According to official data, India exported 11.74 lakh tonnes (lt) of onions and imported 26,870 tonnes in 2021-22 (April-December), up from 15.89 lt and 66,351 tonnes in 2020-21.