AN ABNORMAL increase in onion seed prices appears to have worrying implications on onion farming while it brings to the fore a structural flaw in seed import and marketing. A kilogram of imported hybrid onion seeds now sells for Tk 12,000, at Siddique Bazar in Dhaka which is known as the seed hub, while the price in the past year was less than Tk 3,000 a kilogram. In the case of locally grown seeds, the price is now Tk 6,000 a kilogram while it was Tk 2,000 a kilogram in the past year. The Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation, a government agency that manages agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and minor irrigation, is reported to be selling the local onion seeds for Tk 3,500 a kilogram this season but the corporation can supply only 3,638 tonnes of seeds, which accounts for only 2 per cent, which is much insignificant, of the total annual demand for 181,900 tonnes of onion seeds. Although 70 per cent of the demand is met with seeds from farmers’ own resources, the import of hybrid seeds mostly by a handful of importers meets the remaining 30 per cent of the demand.
Such a situation is likely to gravely impact onion farming, especially in terms of encouraging farmers to grow onions under a coordinated plan, with the likelihood to harm the efforts for self-sufficiency in onions that the government envisages in two to three years. Bangladesh has the annual demand for three million tonnes of onions while it could, as the Department of Agricultural Extension says, produce about 2.5 million tonnes of onions in the past season. Understandably, a significant portion of the 2.5 million tonnes of onions that are produced go wasted on the journey from harvest to the market after having been stashed in storage for a long time. The resultant deficit is met with import every year, especially from India. For the past two years, the end-season shortage in the supply of onions around September, when India banned the export of its onions to Bangladesh, put consumers in severe constraints, with the prices having reached about Tk 280 a kilogram in 2019 and Tk 120 a kilogram this year. High prices of onion seeds would certainly harm onion farming although this time, experts believe, more farmers would be encouraged to grow onions despite high seed prices because of the promise of significant profits. But this may not always happen and efforts for self-sufficiency in onion production may, thus, be severely harmed.
The government must, therefore, work out a comprehensive plan to institutionally encourage farmers to grow onions so that the end-season supply shortage of onions, even if there are problems with import, could be averted. But the government must also use relevant public agencies, such as the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation, for the import of onion seeds so that farmers are not forced to buy seeds from private-sector importers for triple the price of the seeds.