India's decision to suspend the export of onions, which was announced on Monday evening, has triggered a steep rise in onion prices in Bangladesh, with prices rising nearly twofold in kitchen markets across the country. According to a report published in this daily on Wednesday, this is largely due to panic buying by consumers and price gouging by wholesalers, which occurred despite Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission (BTTC) officials saying that the country still has a surplus of onions in stock to meet local demand.
This is not the first time this has happened—we found ourselves in a similar situation earlier this year due to a similar ban on India's end, which lasted for five months and was eventually lifted on March 15. Bangladesh has requested the Indian government to withdraw the suspension of onion exports as soon as possible, and as of yesterday, farmers within the Indian state of Maharashtra were also creating unrest to protest this decision, since trucks carrying an estimated 25,000 tonnes of onion were stranded on the Bangladesh border with West Bengal, leading to a sharp decline in wholesale prices within India.
Despite the negative impacts on Bangladeshi markets and certain Indian states, it is difficult to speculate on whether there will be a change in Indian policy regarding this export ban. In the meantime, there are certain steps that we can take in the domestic arena, the first of which is to create consumer confidence so as to put a stop to panic buying. According to BTTC officials, a bumper crop in domestic onion production, a surplus stock of already imported onions and the decision to immediately import another one lakh tonne of onions from other countries will ensure affordable prices for consumers. In order to deal with the rising price of commodities, the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh has also started selling onions, lentil, sugar and soybean oil from 275 trucks at reasonable prices, which will continue until October 1. These are commendable steps and we urge the authorities to ensure that inefficiency and mismanagement do not hamper the process.
However, these steps will only work if the wholesalers are also held accountable. During the spike in onion prices in late 2019 and early 2020, several warehouses were fined by mobile courts for selling onions at exorbitant prices. This time around, the authorities must be even more vigilant in monitoring markets and ensuring such unethical practices are quickly nipped in the bud. The pandemic and seasonal floods have already had an impact on the prices of daily essentials. We must ensure that the rising prices of onions do not become one more burden on the lower-income groups who are struggling to cope during these difficult times.