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What led to the onion shortage?

Last updated on: December 30, 2010 15:21 IST

What led to the onion shortage?

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Diseases caused by unseasonal rains have ruined almost 70 per cent of the kharif onion crop in Maharashtra this year, which is responsible for the nationwide shortage of the commodity, a senior ICAR official said on Thursday.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) will now prepare a list of do's and don'ts for farmers to avoid such a situation in future, Additional Director General (Horticulture) Umesh Shrivastava told PTI.

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Improper action to ward of the ill-effects of untimely rains in the ongoing kharif season (July to November) led to two diseases -- Purple Anthracnose and Purple Blotch -- infecting onion crops in Maharashtra, he said.

This led to a sharp fall in output in the state -- the largest producer of the commodity in the country -- which in turn resulted in sky-high prices across the country, he said. Purple Blotch is caused by the fungus Alternaria porri.

The fungus causes small water-soaked lesions on leaves or seed stalks that rapidly develop white centres.

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Image: Labourers sort onions at a wholesale vegetable market in Siliguri.
Photographs: Reuters.
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As the lesions grow in size, they become zonate and brown to purple in color. On the other hand, Purple Anthracnose affects the scales and lower portions of the unthickened leaves that constitute the neck of the onion bulb.

It can be identified by minute, sunken, yellowish spots that can enlarge and join together. Infected leaves have oval, greenish or yellowish-gray spots with yellow halos that turn dark as they age.

ICAR is an autonomous national organisation that plans, conducts and promotes research, training and transfer of technology in the field of agriculture and horticulture.

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Image: Onion prices at a record high.

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The outbreak of the disease was caused by the delayed monsoon in Maharashtra this year, with rainfall occurring in August-September, instead of starting in July, as has been the norm in recent years, he said.

Water-logging in the "flat beds" of onion fields in the western state, which accounts for 30 per cent of production of the staple vegetable in the country, caused the two diseases, resulting in widespread damage, Shrivastava added.

The problem was compounded due to cloudy and humid weather afterward, he said.

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Image: An activist from India's main opposition BJP, wearing a garland made with onions, shouts slogans.
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The ICAR officer said that even though farmers sprayed their onions with fungicide to protect them, this proved to be futile, as rains washed away the pesticide.

The diseases have reduced onion yields by almost 50 per cent, triggering a drastic shortfall in retail markets, which in turn drove prices of the staple vegetable past Rs 70-85 a kg in the retail markets of major metropolitan cities.

Shrivastava said drawing lessons from the "mistakes", ICAR has decided to prepare detailed do's and don'ts for farmers to help them tackle such a menace in the future.

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Image: Rain hits onion yield.

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Advisories will be issued to farmers on sowing of suitable varieties of onions in particular seasons, timely application of pesticides and other precautionary actions, he said, adding that farmers had sown an unsuitable variety of the crop this year that could not withstand the unseasonal rains.

"ICAR will write to the state governments (the executors of the Centre's agricultural advisories) to ask farmers to strictly follow the do's and do-nots to minimise the adverse effect of erratic monsoon in the future," he added.

India produces around 4 million tonnes of onions annually and is the second largest onion producer in the world after China.

Maharashtra is the leading producer in the country, with an average output of around 12 lakh tonnes per annum.

The main onion producing areas in Maharashtra are Nashik, Pune, Ahmednagar, Satara, Sholapur and Dhulia.


Image: Maharashtra is the leading producer of onions.
Photographs: Reuters.
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