about 7 months ago
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The best gift for friends and family in India?

Of course, onions! Not gold or perfumes or chocolates; all those who have got friends and family visiting this year for the festive season to India, a bag of onions will be the best gift! Or else, be prepared to get meals which are sans onion!

Rs.200/kg for onions? It is unbelievable. Our FM might not be eating too much of onions but majority of India cannot cook a meal without onions. Even the small farmer working in the fields, usually eats his lunch of rotis or even curd rice with raw onions. Like the banana being the ‘fruit of the poor,’ the onion and potatoes are the ‘vegetables of the poor.’ Today, both have become out of reach for many.

Many are not able to understand why onions have become so costly? Blame it all on climate change and we are all paying the price; yet, we do not learn and continue building one concrete jungle after the other, cutting down forests and reducing rivers to a trickle. Anyway, environment is a debate for later as our eyes continue to well up now at the mere mention of “onion.”

The rains are the real culprits. First the rabi crops were impacted due to the drought in 2018 and then the kharif harvest after October and another kharif harvest in Jan – March  - both crops were delayed due to late arrival of monsoon and then by heavy rainfall just when the farmer was reading to reap a bountiful harvest. So no rain, late rain and then too much rain has left us crying.

Haven’t the farmers stored enough? Even those who hoard are now out-of-stock. When the season started in April, there was 22 lakh tonnes of onions stored. Now less than 1-2% remains. But there is no denying the fact that every year, almost cyclically, the price of onion goes up and it has given rise to a gang of hoarders who make merry every year, laughing so much as they cash-in their artificially created shortage; they too have tears running down their cheeks!

To add to the woes, land under kharif acreage also dipped by 13% (YoY) in 2019-20 at 2.58 lakh hectares. Lasalgaon in Maharashtra is the onion heart of India and there itself, sowing was down due to the delayed monsoon. Maharashtra supplies 35% of India’s entire onion and that has come down drastically. That’s not all, due to unseasonal rains; crops in MP, Rajasthan and Gujarat were also destroyed.

Onion is a big deal in Indian kitchens, which is why it holds so much political significance. In fact, national Govts have fallen over the onions! And the ban on export of onions to ensure those within the country get enough has had geopolitical ramifications too. Bangladesh gets all its onions from India and with the ban their citizens too have been left crying. Bangladesh is so desperate to get its onions that it immediately tendered for imports to be airlifted from Egypt, Turkey and, notably, from Pakistan, with whom relations otherwise are very strained. It is after 15 years that this trade has happened between the two. So will the onion be the gravy which binds two countries together? Now that’s really putting too much pressure on the onion!

BJP is very quick to react but sadly has done little to put in place a good warehousing system for agri products. It can stop blaming the UPA – agreed they did nothing much but the BJP too has been in power for six years now. Even today, like the UPA times, tonnes of fruits, vegetables and pulses/grains rot. When storage systems are so fragile, naturally, even the slightest change in demand and supply, sends the prices into a tizzy. Last year, there was an onion supply glut – farmers cried for aid as they were selling onions almost free.

Thus onion remains a tear jerker – call it politics and some induced by Mother Nature. Jains will be wondering what this big brouhaha is all about….

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