Local farmers are frustrated by recent onion imports and fear that much worse is yet to come
Onion farmers are losers in both ways – be it a bumper production or not.
In the current season, which has seen a bumper production of the bulb, farmers are in fear of a huge loss because the prices have already started going down because of huge imports.
Azizul Haque, a farmer from Biharipara village in Puthia under the district, planted an early variety of onion (premature onions) on his 15 kathas of land with the hope of chalking up a good profit.
He planted three-and-a-half maunds of onion seeds – which cost him Tk12,000 – and spent Tk10,000 on preparing the land, labour, fertiliser, and hoeing.
Azizul hoped that he would grow 25-30 maunds of onions altogether on his land and that it would fetch him a good amount of money – as the price of the bulb was going through the roof even two months ago.
But his expectation has gone haywire.
In Rajshahi's Baneshwar, the wholesale market, onions are now only Tk1,000 per maund and farmers have suffered huge losses due to the import of Indian onions. The imports have caused the domestic onion price to fall by Tk400-Tk500 per maund.
Local farmers are frustrated by recent onion imports and fear that much worse is yet to come.
Mr Ali, a farmer from Durgapur in Rajshahi, also expressed this concern.
"I cultivated premature onions on my one bigha of land, but due to the fall in onion prices – because of Indian onions – farmers will suffer a lot," he said.
Ali said because of the high price of onion seeds, this year, the cultivation cost has gone up whereas onions are being sold at a throw-away price.
Rajshahi, Pabna, Kushtia, and other districts of the country – the top producers of premature onions – are also experiencing this.
The farmers in those districts are voicing the same concerns.
"It will be very tough for us to meet the production cost let alone profit," the farmers said.
They suggested importing onions only when its demand is very high and that there should be coordination between the government and the growers.
Sajahan Ali Tofa, a farmer of New Gohailbari village of Pabna Sadar Police Station, said this year he cultivated onion on his 10 bighas of land, harvested seven bighas of onion and sold it on the market while the rest is lying in the field.
The onion grower said, "Just a month earlier, I sold it at between Tk1,500 and Tk1,800 per maund, but now the price has come down to Tk1,000 a maund since India announced onion exports to Bangladesh."
"I do not know at what price I will have to sell the rest of the onions which have yet to be harvested," he added.
Farmers like Tofa are struggling to make both ends meet. The situation will be worse for those who have cultivated onions on a small scale.
In the beginning of November every year, the country starts to grow onions in advance. The onions are produced by planting small onions, called seedlings, which cannot be saved.
As the price of onion went out of control at the end of last year, this year farmers brought more land under onion cultivation.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension, onions have been cultivated on 65,962 hectares of land in the country.
Last year they were cultivated on 62,000 hectares of land and 25,70,600 tons of onions were produced – premature variety and saplings included.
Onions were cultivated on about 20,000 hectares of land in Rajshahi, Natore, Chapainawabganj, Naogaon, and Pabna. With an average yield of 14.39 tons per hectare, the production target has been set at around 2,87,000 tonnes.
Of the total land dedicated to onion cultivation, the bulb vegetable is being cultivated on 5,680 hectares in Rajshahi and 9,000 hectares in Pabna.
Rajshahi, Pabna, Kushtia, and Faridpur are the top producers of premature onions in the country.
Nazim Uddin, a farmer from Swaruppur village under Kushtia's Daulatpur Police Station, said seven to eight maunds of seedlings are required to cultivate onion on one bigha of land.
"I bought seeds for Tk4,400 and planted them. Additionally, there were costs relating to fertiliser, insecticides and other items," he explained.
It will be difficult this year to meet the production cost despite selling the onions at Tk30-Tk35 a kilogramme, said the onion grower.
Shamsur Rahman, deputy director of Agriculture Extension Department, said premature onions are produced in 21 districts of the country, including: Jashore, Rajshahi, Pabna, Kushtia, and Faridpur.
Different varieties of onions are produced in different areas across the country.
Although there is no separate accounting of premature onion production, last year the average production of all types of onion was 10.76 tonnes per hectare. Generally, the production of onion seedlings is lower than that of premature onions.
"However, we have calculated that it costs an average of Tk15-Tk18 to produce each kilogramme of onion. Therefore, farmers are earning an average profit of only Tk5 per kilogramme," added Shamsur Rahman.
According to the Bangladesh Bank and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the country produced 17,36,000 tonnes of onions in Fiscal Year 2017-2018.
Meanwhile, 9,32,000 tonnes were imported at that time.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, the country has a demand for 2.4 million tonnes of the essential cooking ingredient per year. However, this excludes accounting for weight loss and putrefaction of the bulb vegetables during storage.
Over the last two years, onion production has increased.
Meanwhile, farmers are selling onions at Tk25 per kilogramme on the wholesale market, Tk35 per kilogramme on the retail market in Rajshahi and Tk40 per kilogramme in the capital.