Urge to reduce over-dependence on overseas onions by imposing import tax
In spite of a recent hike in onion prices across the country, marginal farmers of Pabna and Bogura remain on the losing side to get due prices for their crop.
For the miseries, farmers and local traders blamed the over-dependence on imported onions and some dishonest businessmen who use the situation to make extra profits.
"There is no shortage of onions in the country. The price has increased in India and some dishonest businessmen have created an artificial crisis in the country to sell onions from their stock at a high price," said onion seller Jabbar from Pabna.
To stabilise the onion market, local traders, hence, urged the authorities concerned to impose tax again on imported onions as well as to take steps to increase local production of the item.
"Since withdrawal of import tax on foreign onions in 2005, price of the item has been rising suddenly at a certain time of the year. To control the situation, the government should impose the tax again," said Md Ronju Mia, a Bogura trader.
He also alleged that many dishonest businessmen are involved in money laundering by opening fake letters of credit in the name of onion import.
The scenario in Pabna
One-third of the country's total onions is cultivated in Pabna. Many marginal farmers from different upazilas of the district, including Shujanagar and Chatmohar, depend on the cultivation of this crop.
According to the Pabna Department of Agricultural Extension, onion has been cultivated this year in 50,000 hectares of land in the district. The total production is 6,00,000 lakh tonnes, exceeding the target by about 77,000 tonnes.
In fiscal year 2017-18 too, the production surpassed the target by 1,00,000 tonnes.
But farmers are being deprived of a fair price for their item. "The wholesale price of our onion is only Tk10 to Tk15 per kg, but the same item costs three to four times more when we buy it from the retail market," said Motaleb Hossen, an onion farmer from Pabna's Shujanagar upazila.
Abdul Hannan, another farmer of the same upazila, said the cost of onion production per bigha is Tk30,000 to Tk35,000.
"But we do not get a fair price at the market. Last few years, we had to struggle to recover the production cost. If the situation continues as it is, we have to shift to production of other crops," he said.
The situation in Bogura
Bogura traders said the retail price of locally-grown onions is Tk58-60 per kg. In many places, the price is Tk70-Tk75. But the price of imported onions is Tk50.
The demand for imported onions in the local market is more as they are selling at a relatively low price. Farmers and traders urged the authorities concerned to minimise the price gap between local onions and the imported ones by imposing import tax on foreign onions.
The yearly demand for onion in Bogura is almost 39,000 tonnes. The whole demand is met with onions produced in the district, according to Nikhil Chandra Biswas, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural Extension, Bogura.
But if locally produced onions can meet the demand, why is it necessary to import from another country? He asked.
Asked about why the market is full of imported onions as the crop grows in the district in abundance, Nikhil said farmers sell green onions at the beginning of the season as the country lacks preservation facilities for the crop.
At the same time, there is no import tax on foreign onions. As a result, a large amount of onions is imported from neighbouring India, he added.
Last year, a total of 2,29,673 tonnes of onion were imported from India through the Hilli Land Port, while the amount of the import, until September 16 this year, is 42,483 tonnes, as per the port data.
Local traders said the wholesale price of onion in July this year was Tk23-Tk25 per kg which was Tk17-Tk18 in the same period last year. However, the price jumped in the beginning of the current month.
The onion market might be stable within the next week, said importer Parimal Kumar Raj. New onions will come to the Indian market soon which will help reduce the price in Bangladesh.