Poor yields, prices cause concern among onion farmers

Onion yields have fallen by about half of previous levels so far in the ongoing harvesting season due to bad weather, including a short winter and low rainfall during the cultivating period. Here, trucks loaded with onion are seen leaving the Pushpopara wholesale market in Pabna sadar upazila. PHOTO: Ahmed Humayun Kabir Topu

Onion farmers in Pabna, the biggest producing district in Bangladesh, are not happy with the current market price for their crop while yields have also been unsatisfactory due to poor weather conditions.

With harvests now in full swing, the production of local varieties of onion has fallen by 30 to 40 per cent while yields of hybrid varieties are lower as well, according to growers.

However, sources at the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) say it cannot be said for certain if yields are lower this year before the final harvesting report is submitted.

"Last year, I harvested 80 to 100 maunds [one maund equals roughly 37 kilogrammes] of hybrid variety onion from each bigha," said Md Kamruzzaman, a farmer of Durgapur village in Sujanagar upazila of Pabna.

"This year though, I am getting just 50 to 60 maunds of onion from each bigha all because of the short-lived winter," he added.

Kamruzzaman cultivated around 80 bighas of onion, mostly of the hybrid variety, spending up to Tk 40,000 per bigha.

Other than reduced production, farmers are fretting over the poor market price as well.

"After harvesting, I sold 100 maunds at Tk 1,100 to Tk 1,150 per maund last week. So, I have stopped selling," Kamruzzaman said, adding each maund went for about Tk 1,400 at the same time last year.

The situation is more critical for farmers such as Abdur Razzak, who cultivated onion on leased land with the help of loans.

Razzak spent Tk 50,000 for cultivating each bigha but is now finding no way to repay the money borrowed due to poor production and market price of the crop.

Montu Khan, an onion farmer of Ulat village in Sujanagar upazila, said he cultivated seven bighas of the local variety and three bighas of the hybrid variety.

"I got some 50 maunds of the local variety from each bigha last year but this year, I am getting only 20 to 25 maunds," he added.

Sources at the Pabna DAE say around 44,000 hectares of land in the district were brought under onion cultivation this year with an estimated production target of 7 lakh tonnes.

"But production has fallen due to bad weather, such as the short winter and poor rainfall, during the cultivation period," said Md. Rafiul Islam, agriculture officer of Sujanagar upazila.

"Onion harvesting begins in mid-March and we are getting some 17 tonnes of onion from each hectare whereas it was 18 tonnes last year," he added.

Md Idris Ali, a development officer of the Pabna DAE, said harvesting has progressed less than 10 per cent in the last few days.

"We will get the real picture on production levels after harvesting is complete," he added.

Traders at major onion wholesale markets in the region say that each maund of the crop is now being sold for up to Tk 1,200 while it was Tk 1,400 last year.

In addition, the excessive transport cost reduces their profits, according to Md Robiul Islam, a local wholesale trader.

"If the onion price does not increase, not only farmers but also traders will see huge losses," he added.

Md Saiful Islam, deputy director of the Pabna DAE, said the district plays a vital role in fulfilling onion demand across the country but not in controlling prices.

"Almost 30 per cent of the onion requirement is produced in Pabna but we have no price controlling capacity," Islam said.

"Also, the government has stopped importing onion, so we expect the onion price will increase soon," he added.



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