The ban may frustrate Bangladesh’s plan to gain self-sufficiency in onion in four years
- Annual demand for summer seeds 37.5 tonnes
- Stock only 2 tonnes at govt, private levels
- India banned seed export from last October
- Letter issued requesting lift of the ban
Bangladesh has already gone through a bitter experience twice from an Indian ban on onion export that made the market unstable here.
Now, Bangladesh is going to receive another severe blow at the very beginning of implementing a plan to become self-sufficient in onion production within the next four years as the South Asian neighbour has banned export of onion seeds this time.
A seed crisis has already raised doubts about the implementation of the government's plan to produce onions in the summer for the first time.
In the four-year action plan to achieve self-sufficiency in onions, the agriculture ministry decided to provide free seeds and fertilisers to farmers, starting from the next summer season. But the country has no water-tolerant variety of onion seeds in stock for this season.
India is a major source of this variety of onion seeds as the country produces onions in summer.
Experts have said that, thanks to similar weather conditions between the two countries, it is possible to bring summer seeds from India and cultivate them in Bangladesh without going for a trial. But it is risky to import these seeds from any other country and go into production without a trial.
On 29 October, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade of India banned the export of onion seeds. However, Bangladesh has already sent a letter requesting the Indian government to lift the ban.
Until now, onions were cultivated only in the Rabi (winter) season in Bangladesh. As a result, the country suffered an onion crisis during the summer. Later, the Ministry of Agriculture planned to address the crisis by producing summer onions.
As part of the plan, the ministry has set a target of cultivating onions on 5,000 hectares of land for the first time in the coming summer. To that purpose, the country requires 37.5 tonnes of seeds. However, it has only 2 tonnes suitable for cultivation in this season.
Two government research institutes have developed two varieties of onions – Bari Onion-5 and Bina Onion-1 – suitable for summer cultivation.
However, it will take 2-3 years to produce seeds from these varieties and distribute them at the farmers' level, according to people concerned.
Agriculture Secretary Md Mesbahul Islam held a meeting with private seed companies last week to find a way out of the seed crisis.
The companies informed the meeting that they will not be able to import seeds unless India lifts the ban on seed export.
In this context, the Ministry of Agriculture has sent a letter to the Indian government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, requesting a lifting of the export ban.
The agriculture secretary met with India's deputy high commissioner in Dhaka, Vishwajit Dey, on Thursday afternoon where he requested the latter to lift the ban or to supply 35.5 tonnes of seeds to Bangladesh under special arrangements.
On this issue, TBS tried to contact the agriculture secretary but received no response from him.
Sudhir Chandra Nath, the business director of ACI Seed, told The Business Standard, "Last year, we promised the government 20 tonnes of summer onion seeds. Two species were brought in from India and got a good yield from a test cultivation in Madaripur. Now that India has stopped exporting seeds, we can no longer import seeds."
"No one has imported these seeds so far as summer onions have not been cultivated in the country. If India lifts the ban, we will import 5-10 tonnes or more of seeds and supply them to the government. We are also trying to collect seeds from the Philippines and Myanmar," he said.
MA Rashid, general manager of Lal Teer Seed Limited, told TBS that it will take 2-3 years for Bari and Bina seeds to reach the farmers' level via the BADC (Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation).
If India does not open up its seed market for export at this time, the seed crisis of Bangladesh for summer onion production will not go away, he also said.
Asked whether seeds can be imported from any other country, he said even if seeds are imported from other countries, they must go through a trial production for at least two years.
"It is necessary to understand if those seeds are suitable for the soil and climate of the country. The decision to bring seeds from abroad and distribute them directly to farmers would not be right," he elaborated.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension, the demand for onions in the country is 35 lakh tonnes per year.
In the 2019-20 season, the country produced 25.57 lakh tonnes, a 10 lakh tonne shortage at the consumer level thanks to a post-collection wastage of 20-30%.
Bangladesh imports onions every year to meet the deficit. About 90% of the import comes from India alone.
After India stopped onion exports twice this year, a severe onion crisis erupted in Bangladesh. The price of 1kg of onions rose to a record high of Tk300 from Tk35.
To meet the need, the government urgently imported onions from various countries, including China, Egypt and Turkey, by cargo planes.