Onion importers are exploring alternatives to India as sources of the cooking ingredient
There is apparently no shortage of onions on Dhaka's retail market now as the key cooking staple is available everywhere – from grocery stores to kitchen markets.
However, consumers are still being forced to buy the cooking essential at spiked prices, and onion traders are blaming a supply crunch for this. Importers are now operating and working to ease the crisis over onion prices.
In the next two months, about six lakh tonnes of onions imported from different countries are due to arrive in Bangladesh. On Friday, a 100-tonne consignment of Burmese onions will enter the country through Teknaf.
The Plant Quarantine Wing of the Department of Agriculture Extension said more than 500 businessmen have taken its approval to bring in around 5.73 lakh tonnes of onions from: Myanmar, Pakistan, China, Egypt, the Netherlands, Turkey, and New Zealand.
By sea, those imported consignments will enter Bangladesh through Chattogram port within the next 15 days to two months after Letters of Credit (LCs) are opened.
According to the commerce ministry, Bangladesh eats away 25 lakh tonnes of onions per year. Local production meets 65-70% of the demand while the rest of it is imported. India alone meets 95% of Bangladeshi onion imports.
The country will require 11 lakh tonnes of the cooking essential until the next harvesting season in March while the major onion producing districts have five lakh tonnes of onions in stock.
Plant Quarantine Wing Director Dr Md Azhar Ali said businessmen had been taking their import permission prior to India's onion export ban. And so far, a record number of businessmen have been permitted for imports.
In another development, the revenue board waived its 5% duty on onion imports Tuesday by issuing an official circular.
Additionally, several government market monitoring officials said the wholesale supply of the key cooking staple from the country's major onion producing districts to local markets is rising.
On condition of anonymity, a top official of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection said the government is closely monitoring the supply chain so that the bulbs smoothly reach local markets from the major onion producing hubs.
Despite the measures, spiked onion prices in retail remain unchanged. The vegetable was at Tk75-90 per kilogramme varying by area. Meanwhile, the imported ones sell for Tk65-70 per kilogramme. The state-run trading corporation is selling onions at Tk30 per kilogramme in its open market sale.
Apart from this, the trading corporation's online onion sales at Tk36 per kilogramme are taking place: Chaldal, Shwapno online, Sindabad, Sabzibazaar, bdsale, and Jachai.
From the e-commerce sites, a customer can buy a maximum of three kilogrammes of onion at once with a Tk30 delivery charge.
Asif Ahnaf, director of e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB), said the first day's supply from the trading corporation ran out in just four hours. The corporation was requested to ramp up allocations, expand selling areas and increase the number of onion-selling platforms.
"But the corporation did not agree to do so, citing its limitations," said Asif.
While contacted, the corporation spokesperson Md Humayun Kabir said they supplied onions to six e-commerce sites till Tuesday. "Each company was provided with 1,500 kilogrammes of onions and we will supply them every three days."