Onion prices soar: A “kitchen nightmare” is sweeping South Asia

A small onion, the whole of South Asia. India has cut its onion production sharply this year, sending its stock down 35 percent and surging prices by 2-3 to the end of this year’s prolonged rainy season, the Guardian reported on November 17. On September 29th the Indian government announced a ban on onion exports, which caused other South Asian countries, which had been relying on Indian onions, to “fry the pot”.

India’s “onion crisis”

India’s onion production has been cut sharply this year because of last year’s drought and delays in this year’s monsoon rains, coupled with subsequent flooding, the Guardian reported.

Since August, onion prices in India have risen steadily, from an initial 25 rupees (about 2.5 yuan) per kilogram to 60 to 80 rupees (about 6 to 8 yuan) per kilogram, and in some places as much as 100 rupees (about 10 yuan). Less than a year ago, onion prices in parts of India were as low as 1 rupee per kilogram .

During this period, the Indian government has rushed to put 50,000 tons of stocked onions into the market, setting a minimum export price of $850 (about 5,952 yuan) per ton, but with little success.

Production cuts and inventory reductions have led to several-fold spikes in onion prices. To mitigate the impact on the majority of the population, the Indian government announced a ban on the export of onions in late September, and cars of onions were pulled back from the Indian border. In early October, the price of onions fell back, slowly falling below 60 rupees (about 6 yuan) to 55 rupees (about 5.5 yuan).

But onions cannot be exported, which also touched some traders and farmers.

“The government stopped exporting onions and the price has come down, which is an insufferable loss to us, ” said Madhukar Bagh, an onion farmer, according to local Indian television. ”

In the onion-growing region of central India, farmers have even blocked highways and vented their anger with protests, all of which are felt forgotten by Modi’s government, accusing him of failing to deliver on his promise to help farmers.

Neighbouring “frying pans”

Onions for South Asian countries have “national vegetables” called, large to the presidential palace state banquet, as small as the common people’s table, are inseparable ingredients.

India is one of the world’s largest onion producers and exporters, exporting 2m tonnes in 2018, and 75 per cent of annual onion imports from neighbouring Bangladesh (about 1.1m tonnes) come from India.

India’s export ban has pushed onion prices in neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal to “staggering” levels, prompting people around the world to say the kitchen “can’t open the pot”.

Since early October, the price of onions in Bangladesh has soared from 30 taka per kilogram to 260 taka (1 Bangladeshi taka or about 0.08 yuan), the Global Times reported. “I’ve never seen an onion price so outrageous in my life, ” one said. In the impression of some citizens, the highest price of this vegetable is only about 120 taka. So far, the soaring price of onions has seriously affected the people’s three meals a day, some people said that the last two weeks have been “do not know the smell of onions.” The country’s restaurant industry has also been directly implicated, with some restaurants and roadside stalls having to temporarily take off the country’s food, which needs onions. The prime minister’s office claims that even Prime Minister Hasina has started to “give up onions”: her meal last weekend was dull because half a slice of onion was not added.

In the country’s vegetable market, vegetable vendors are also having a headache about soaring onion prices, the Daily Star of Bangladesh reported. Momen, a vegetable wholesaler in Dhaka, told reporters that he shipped six to seven tons of onions on weekdays, but that he had not even sold a kilogram before the market opened in the morning on the 16th. Retailers are having a hard time, too: local vendors say they usually sell 60 to 70 kilos a day, and today’s sales are only about one-third of what they used to be. Customers who used to buy by kilograms can now only be 100 grams, 200 grams of “cut open to buy”. Many customers bought semi-rotten onions at a “copy price” of 100 taka.

Bangladesh’s commerce minister, Monshi, last month urged Indian authorities to lift the ban as soon as possible, according to the Economic Times. He said Bangladesh’s annual onion supply gap of up to 600,000 tonnes was expected to give India an 80 per cent share. This is because onions are perishable, and only imports from India can maximize logistics time and keep vegetables fresh.

The “onion crisis” has also been criticised by the Bangladeshi government. On the 14th of this month, opposition lawmakers accused the Administration of failing to control prices in the proceedings, which is bound to trigger negative sentiment in the public sector. Because of the special status of onion, many media call it “politically sensitive material”, its price fluctuations can even lead to electoral defeat, the ruling crisis. The Bangladeshi government has been struggling to rescue the market recently and has expressed its willingness to import to many countries, including China. But international trade needs to take a certain amount of time, it is difficult to solve the urgent problem. The prime minister’s office confirmed at the weekend that the country had stepped up airlifts of onions from abroad.

In addition to Bangladesh, South Asian countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka have also suffered. Reuters calls India’s ill-supply a “kitchen nightmare” in South Asia because “whether it’s Pakistan’s chicken curry, Bangladesh’s fennel, or India’s sour bean soup, it can’t be served without onions.”

Why are onions so important in South Asia?

India is one of the hottest countries in the world, with the sea and most of it in the tropical monsoon belt. Hot climate can lead to a decline in appetite, so the local people are used to using chili peppers, large ingredients, onions and so on to maintain their appetite.

In the long-term consumption of onions, the Indian people found that onions are not only delicious, but also have certain health care effects, such as sterilization, cold prevention, refreshing, relieve indigestion and so on. When the summer heat continues, Indians put a few peeled onions in their pockets, which they believe absorb the body’s heat and cool down the heat.

In addition, the Indian people love curry, the curry tastetoo, plus onion slices can be to blend the taste.

The status of onions in India can be seen in the “influence” of Indian politics.

During India’s 1980 elections, onion prices soared and the ruling Janata Party complained about the poor price controls, according to the Lookout think-tank at the Center for Public Policy Research. Indira Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party, seized the moment to launch a political offensive. Instead of wearing pearly jewelry, she went on to hang an onion string around her neck, giving voters a glimpse of their vital interests and shouting slogans: “Governments that can’t control onion prices have no power”, and ended up winning the election.

In October 2005, the price of Indian onions soared from 15 rupees per kilogram to Rs 30-35, again erupting in a crisis that has spread to an unprecedented extent. The Hindustan Times, under the headline “The Tears From the Onion”, criticized the government for not paying attention to the national economy and people’s livelihood. The Asia Century newspaper also ran a front-page headline entitled “Onion prices, India tears” and called on the government to take steps to calm prices as soon as possible in response to the current situation.

Subsequently, the New Delhi municipal government announced a subsidy to require all government vegetable shops to sell onions at a fixed price of Rs.11.25 per kilogram, while firmly cracking down on black-market transactions. But in government vegetable shops that adhere to the pricing, the quality of onions is so poor that few customers. On private stalls all the way, onionprices are still 30 rupees per kilogram. Since then, there have been cases of people stealing onions from the market. Demonstrations even broke out on the streets of New Delhi, with angry people hanging onions around their necks and overhead, shouting slogans and expressing their strong dissatisfaction. Opposition parties have also threatened violence if prices remain unable to be curbed in the coming days.

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