New onion variety ushers in hope
When the country was coping with the soaring price of onion because of Indian export ban earlier this month, vegetables farmer Shahinur Rahman was seeing bumper production of a new variety of local onion he planted two months ago.
Shahinur, from Mohadebpur village in Pabna's Ishwardi upazila, thanks the Spices Research Center, Bogura, for giving him the opportunity to participate in test cultivation of BARI-5 variety of onion on his land.
"I used to cultivate vegetables in my field. Recently, I came to know that this new variety of onion is ready in 90 to 100 days. I was interested and so made seed beds in the middle of June and planted seedlings in the last week of July."
"While the country is worried about the rising price of onion, my fields are full of onions," Shahinur, who is set to harvest next month, said about a week back.
The Spices Research Center, a wing of the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI), is now at the final stage of research on BARI-5 onion cultivation.
BARI-5 is expected to be ready for commercial cultivation next year onwards, which will lead to production of onion in the months of September and October -- usually around the time of the year when onion import crises and price hikes hit the country.
"Traditionally, farmers in the country cultivate onions in January and February and get the production in by April or May before the floods," Dr Hamim Reza, chief scientific officer of the Spices Research Center, Bogura told the Daily Star.
"After the floodwaters go down, farmers also undertake winter onion cultivation -- popularly named 'mulkata piaz' -- in November and December, harvesting before the start of the main crop season."
The Spices Research Center has already started research on six high-yielding varieties of onion, with BARI-1, 3, 5 for the summer season. Of these, BARI-5 is showing success all year-around in their research, he said.
"After long-term research, we have undertaken experimental cultivation of BARI-5 this year. For test cultivation, we have already selected 10 districts across the country, including the hill districts and districts which are the biggest producers of onion," Dr Hamim said.
Fifty bighas of land in the selected districts have been brought under experimental cultivation under the supervision of station offices of BARI.
Additionally, test cultivation is taking place in three sugar mills alongside sugarcane cultivation, he said, to test what other vegetables onion can be inter-cropped with.
Besides farmers in the selected districts, many in Pabna, Kushthia and adjoining districts have also started test cultivation of the new variety of onion under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), Dr Hamim added.
The BARI-5 seeds were distributed among the selected farmers in early June this year and they produced seed beds for making saplings.
Farmers like Shahinur then planted 40-45-day-old onion saplings in their selected fields in August and early September -- which will be ready to harvest after 60 days.
When this correspondent visited Mohadebpur village, he found several farmers cultivating BARI-5 as a test case, they are now waiting to harvest the crop.
Talking with the Daily Star, Md Azhar Ali, deputy director of Pabna DAE, however, said like Shahinur, many farmers were interested in test cultivation of this variety this year.
It can be cultivated everywhere where the soil is dry and no stagnant water collects, Azhar said, adding that they are expecting production of over 40 mounds of onion from each bigha.
Dr Hamim added if experimental cultivation is successful and all the departments concerned work together, they can proceed with commercial cultivation of BARI-5 -- targeting the crucial gap between the two current seasons of onion production.