February 03, 2013

A potential Onion Exporter in Onion Crisis

Odisha produces less than 20% of its consumption needs and for the rest it has to depend on imports from other states. So, every time there is a problem in Nasik or Maharashtra, Odisha has to face Onion crisis.
This is happening because of negligence to Onion farming and apathy to the issues of Onion growers.

With all potential to be country’s largest onion grower and exporter, Odisha is now struggling to come out of the recent crisis of Onion that is sold at a price close to 35 rupees a kilo. Such crisis have almost become an annual affair with the State.
In order to control the price, District collectors have been asked to hold talks with traders and ensure no hoarding in their respective areas, said the Secretary of Odisha’s Food and Civil Supplies Department, Madhusudan Padhi. Stating that Odisha usually procures its onion requirement from Nasik, Padhi said that untimely rain in Nasik of Maharashtra resulted in loss of crop and led to rise in Onion price in procuring States like Odisha.
However, apart from taking steps to control the price, the issue of Onion crisis needs to be seen from a different perspective in case of Odisha.
To people like Jagdish Pradhan who are working for development of poor people and farmers of Kalahandi, Nuapada and Bolangir districts, the shortage of Onion in the state is purely because of the government’s negligence to Onion farming and in providing storage facilities. “If farmers are provided with adequate facilities and timely support, Odisha can become the highest producer of onion in the country. The state has a potential to produce at least 50 times it is producing now,” said Jagdish Pradhan, a Development Activist heading an organisation named Sahabhagi Vikash Abhiyan (SVA).
As per statistics provided by Agriwatch and Small Farmers’ Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC), for the year 2011-12, Odisha has produced 395,000 MT of Onion from a land area of about 35,500 hectares. The yield rate is only 11.13 tonne per hectare which is below the national average of 14.2 tonne per hectare and much below the yield rates of most of the onion producing states including all the neighbouring states like Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and west Bengal whose yield rates are 17.01, 15.95, 17.52, 20.30, 20.20 and 14.04 tonne per hectare respectively.
Using a little over 10 times of land used for Onion cultivation in Odisha, Maharastra is the highest producer of Onion in India with a total production of 5,036,000 MT of Onion, in 2011-12. If one goes by the field experience of Jagdish Pradhan and his estimation that, given proper support and storage facilities, farmers of Odisha can produce 50 times of what it is producing today, the state can surpass even the onion ruler of India even if the production goes up to 20 times of the present production.
“Odisha produces less than 20% of its consumption needs and for the rest it has to depend on imports from other states. So, every time there is a problem in Nasik or Maharashtra, Odisha has to face Onion crisis. This is happening because of negligence to Onion farming and apathy to the issues of Onion growers of Odisha,” says Jagdish Pradhan who has conducted a study on the status and possibility of Onion cultivation in the State.
Though the district-wise data about Onion production during the recent years is not available in the public domain of the Agriculture Ministry of Odisha, the most latest, of 2008-09, available says that western Odisha as a whole is the major grower of Onion after Nawrangpur district. The irony is that such a potential area is better known for its poverty and the trend of migration as labourers than its capacity of making Odisha an Onion exporting State of India. To further disbelief, the migration takes place during the season of Onion growing, that is just after the harvest of paddy crop.
In Odisha, the usual Onion cultivation season starts from the winter and goes on till the early rain. And, after the harvest of paddy, thousands of agricultural workers migrate to other states to earn their livelihood, leaving most of the land unused till the next Kharif (rainfed) paddy season. Awareness, proper support and facilities would definitely motivate and convince those migrating farmers to go for Onion cultivation and earn a better livelihood while making Odisha self-sufficient in meeting its demand of Onion and enabling it to export the rest.
The major areas for the government to take care of are, creating awareness about onion cultivation; providing technical support and building direct link of onion farmers with the market. Even though the government has started supporting a few farmers to create low investment storage facilities of their own, it is inadequate to meet the need of all the farmers. So, adequate storage facilities have to be created to enable the farmers store their produce till the time they get a good buyer to sell their onion at a good price.
In the present situation, most of the Onion growers are compelled to sell their produces to a middleman or a greedy businessman at a very low price because there is no facility available to store the onion and wait till a better bidder approaches.
Apart from making Odisha self sufficient in meeting its own demands and save some for export, promotion to Onion farming can also stop migration of farmers to other places in search of job. This is not just a hypothesis because some of the villages of Nuapada and Bolangir have become migration free as they are making a good income by farming Onion during the same period. This has been possible after intervention of NGOs like SVA, Lokadrusti and many others. The government and local administration must work to imitate the success achieved by the NGOs and promote Onion farming in the these districts and more particularly in the migration prone villages.
This article first appeared on February 3, 2013 at the HotnHitNews.

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