Country needs to import six lakh tonnes of onion | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 14, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:45 AM, September 14, 2020

Country needs to import six lakh tonnes of onion

Tariff commission report suggests alternatives to India

The country has a stock of 5.25 lakh tonnes of locally grown onion and it will require six lakh tonnes more to meet domestic requirements until the next main harvesting season, typically the March-April period.

Therefore, the nation needs to import six lakh tonnes of onion to plug the deficit.

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And, it should consider alternatives to India for the import, said the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC) in a latest report on the production and market situation of onion.

This is to avoid the risk of price spirals as there is a possibility of the neighbouring nation imposing an export restriction to curb soaring prices in its domestic market, the BTTC reasoned.

The report said Indian onion accounts for 95 per cent of what was annually imported, and prices of the bulb are on the upward there as flooding this year damaged Kharif crops, that is those planted before monsoon and harvested in autumn.

"The commission thinks that alternative sources for onion imports should be considered as there is possibility of export restriction to curb price spike there," said the BTTC in the report provided to the commerce ministry last week.

The report also suggested that the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) go for imports to increase public stocks, sell onion in the domestic market, address problems related to transport and strengthen monitoring.

The state agency's recommendations come as prices of the popular bulb shot up in the past fortnight, triggered by increased import prices of Indian onion as flooding induced by heavy rains damaged crops in southern India, according to some Indian media.

Last year, India imposed an export ban on September 29, causing prices of the key cooking ingredient to skyrocket to a historic high of Tk 250 per kilogramme (kg) in Bangladesh.

India lifted the restriction in March this year. Yet memories of rationing consumption continues to linger in the minds of many.

At the grocery and perishables markets in Dhaka, retailers sold imported onion at Tk 45-Tk 50 per kg yesterday. The prices were 73 per cent higher from the Tk 25-Tk 30 charged a month ago.

Consumers also had to buy locally grown onion at higher prices than before.

Prices of local bulbs increased 60 per cent to Tk 55-Tk 65 per kg yesterday in Dhaka's markets from Tk 35-Tk 40, as per data compiled by the state-run TCB.

The BTTC said it analysed production, imports and demand for onion for the year.

Teams of the agency also visited main onion producing districts in the north, west and central regions and collected production and stock data for the current year.

The BTTC said six districts -- Pabna, Faridpur, Rajbari, Rajshahi, Kushtia and Manikganj -- account for 80 per cent of the annual production of the bulb.

Farmers bagged 25.5 lakh tonnes of onion in the last harvesting season of March-April, 2020 and the marketable supply stands at just over 19 lakh tonnes as post-harvest and storage losses take away as much as 25 per cent of the production.

The report said locally grown onion meets 65-70 per cent of the yearly requirement of nearly 25 lakh tonnes. The rest is imported.

This year, onion import dropped 35 per cent year-on-year to 4.36 lakh tonnes in the January-August period from 6.75 lakh tonnes, said the BTTC report.

"It appears that a higher amount of locally grown bulbs was consumed this year as imports declined," said the commission.

And now, the country has 5.25 lakh tonnes of locally produced onions.

As the main harvest of the vegetable is six months away, the BTTC said a total of 11 lakh tonnes of onion were needed to meet consumption requirement for the rest of the year.

And more than half of the required quantity should be imported, it observed.

As India grapples with soaring prices, the BTTC said Myanmar, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, China, Malaysia, Pakistan and the Netherlands could be alternative sources for import.

A commerce ministry official, seeking to remain unnamed, said the TCB already started selling onion in the open market at a price below the market rates. "It has also floated a tender initiative to import onion," he said. 

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