Dhaka residents are feeling the pinch since they’re having to pay Tk 150 per kilo of onions—an essential ingredient needed to cook food. The fact that both the local and imported variety are trading at the same prices, and the prices of both have jumped by Tk 20 to Tk 30 over the past few months, have led to speculation of syndication by unscrupulous businessmen at wholesale level to raise prices. It has been standard government policy to open up imports in times of such abnormal price spikes of essentials. Unfortunately, what we have learnt from talking to traders and consumer rights associations is that such short-term interventions rarely have any lasting impact on prices.
For there to be long-term stability, we need to move away from an import-dependent strategy. Since onion is a basic commodity, we have to introduce farmer-friendly policies to increase local production and that too of improved varieties that have higher yields. This is not impossible, especially if farmers are given policy support in terms of fertilisers and better access to finance. Obviously, onion production output will not increase in a day and the government should build up buffer stocks of onion from neighbouring India (where the bulk of our onion imports come from) when prices there are low, i.e. at peak production times. This would naturally require an improvement in preservation facilities so that these stocks can be released to the market whenever scarcity hits.
These are practical and doable interventions for the relevant ministry and we hope that they will be incorporated into standard policy. Farmers can always do with a diversified agro-product range to help increase their incomes and consumers can breathe easier if onion prices remain within reach.