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In onions, Gujarat farmers smell gold

January 10, 2014 14:45 IST

OnionsFollowing a sharp spike in retail onion prices towards the end of 2013, a large number of farmers in Gujarat are moving towards the crop this year -- onion sowing in the state has increased 417 per cent compared with the same period last year.

As on Monday, the rabi onion had been sown on 72,500 hectares, compared with 14,000 hectares during the corresponding period last rabi season. Onions are cultivated in both kharif and rabi seasons.

R S Gupta, director of Nashik-based National Horticulture Research and Development Foundation, says other major states that grow the rabi onion, such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal, are likely to see a 15-20 per cent increase in sowing area.

Among the key reasons for a shift towards onion are a high level of moisture conservation in the soil -- because of a late monsoon withdrawal — and the record prices the commodity fetched in 2013.

A report of the Gujarat agriculture department shows sowing of onions in the state this year has been the second-highest since 2003-04 -- behind only 2005-06, when it was planted on 73,300 hectares.

Onion sowing in 2012-13 across India, according to the second advance estimates, had stood at 992,000 hectares.

The total production during that year was 16.8 million tonnes. This financial year, the production according to the government’s first estimates could be 19 million tonnes, said NHRDF’s Gupta.

Maharashtra is the country’s biggest onion grower; it is followed by Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. “It has been seen over the years that when a particular crop fetches good prices, farmers tend to turn to that crop the next season. The same thing has happened with onion,” said Deepak Patel, secretary of the Ahmedabad Agriculture Produce Marketing Cooperative.

Last year, retail prices of onion had touched Rs 100 a kg in a few urban centres, forcing the government to intervene.

The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India had issued tenders to import at the end of August. However, even after imports of 400 tonnes, prices had not cooled until December.

But the increase in sowing, and the likely production rise thereof, could suppress prices.

“There was an unusually long period of high prices for onion last year.

“This could be a trigger for Gujarat farmers to go for the crop this rabi season.

“Though we have been cautioning farmers associated with us that high production will not fetch them good prices and, in fact, could prove counter-productive, they have gone ahead,” APMC’s Patel added.

Premal Balan in Ahmedabad