Prices of onions have recorded a sharp a decline over last few weeks in Sindh despite continuing export of the commodity. As a big quantity of crop has already been sold, the downward price trend can be attributed to onion quality, a surplus crop and delayed harvesting.
Sowing and harvesting of onion crop in Sindh takes place during different periods of the crop season. Onion is grown in Matiari, Hyderabad, Tando Allahyar, Thana Bulla Khan, Dadu, Mirpurkhas and Digri. Crops from these areas start reaching markets in October and continue till March-April following a 140 to 160 days crop cycle.
An overlapping in harvest of crop is also being reported in Hyderabad, Matiari and parts of Mirpurkhas. Onion prices crashed after hitting a peak in October. Growers confirm that low quality onion is being sold for Rs250 for a 100kg bag and finer quality at Rs500 to Rs550 at the farm gate. Commission agents, until second week of December, supervised auction in Hyderabad’s wholesale vegetable market where a 100kg bag of onion was sold between Rs1000 to Rs1400 against previously reported price of Rs2500 to Rs4000 in the past few weeks.
The 100kg bag of onion of finest quality is auctioned at a retail price of Rs1400 for retailers, or Rs560 per 40kg price. In retail bazaars, consumers are buying the commodity at Rs20 to Rs25 per kg against October’s retail price of Rs40 per kg.
The sudden fall in prices is mind-boggling for onion growers. They say that they aren’t able to meet production expenses or make any profit. Generally, farmers calculate their cost per acre crop at Rs30,000 to Rs35,000 while figure may vary between Rs25,000 on the lower side and Rs40,000 on higher side. One acre of onion crop gives, on an average, around 60 bags of 100kg or 110kg. Cost of harvesting, transportation, filling and gunny bags is added towards pre- and post-harvest expenses.
Many growers say they are selling their produce at Rs2.5 to Rs3 per kg at farm gate. “Usually onion harvesting in different areas begins with some gap which is not the case this year,” says farmer Nadeem Shah. There is also the factor that Punjab, which is main market for Sindh’s onion, is getting its commodity from India. Shah adds that consumers are still paying Rs25 or so per kilogram of onion which shows they don’t get benefit of surplus output either, and the real beneficiary is the middleman, who pockets most of the profit.
According to a Karachi vegetable market’s commission agent, Ghulam Hyder, onion crop is in huge surplus and godowns in the city are packed to capacity. “The problem of re-germination is there, and to me, this is one of the main reasons that crop is not fetching good price. The growers remain at losing end. I sold fine quality of crop for Rs560 per 40kg to retailers and exporters,” he reveals.
Sindh Abadgar Board General Secretary Mehmood Nawaz Shah concurs with this and adds, “The problem of re-generation has always been there but this year it is on a big scale; usually it is reported at the fag end of onion crop’s season, but this time it is being seen in peak season”.
The harvest was delayed in some areas due to rains as well. Post-harvest re-germination is mainly reported in Nasarpuri variety of onion. Since onion is a perishable commodity, rowers want to dispose it off as quickly as possible to avoid losses.
Growers don’t follow proper post-harvest practices which require them to dry the crop after harvest, says researcher Atta Soomro. This can lessen chances of re-germination considerably. An exporter of Karachi, Junaid Mustafa, points out it is quality of onion that is hampering its export though Dubai has reduced duty on onion and potato from Rs50 per kg to Rs15 per kg.
He says that spotting or re-germination in crop is largely due to its premature harvesting. “Having such brighter prospects of export, we are not able to cash on the situation due to lack of proper harvesting practices.