No traders, onion farmers in Maharashtra to directly sell produce in markets

After years of losses, farmers angry at government interventions to drop prices after the allium saw 20% hike compared with last year

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Thursday 21 September 2023
Erratic rainfall ranging from poor to excess, COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have continuously affected the production costs of onions. Photo: iStock

After heavy losses due to crop damage and low prices, onion farmers in Maharashtra have decided to take matters in their hands. Allium producers in the region have decided to not sell produce to traders and sell directly in the market instead.

Conventionally, onion farmers bring their produce to the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) where the harvest is auctioned daily and sold to the traders. The Lasalgaon APMC in Nashik of Maharashtra is the largest wholesale onion market in Asia.

However, farmers have been facing losses for at least five years and the support from the government has been poor, Bharat Dighole, state president of the Onion Growers’ Association, told Down To Earth.

Read more: After massive crop damage, Maharashtra onion farmers stare at more losses as prices drop to all-time low

“Erratic rainfall ranging from poor to excess, COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have continuously affected the production costs. The input costs of fertilisers, chemicals, seeds and others have only escalated over time making it difficult for farmers to sustain repeated losses,” he said.

Recent interventions of the government have only added to their woes, he added. “When onion crops were fetching good prices and the rates could have increased to Rs 50-60 per kilogramme, the government imposed a 40 per cent export duty, crashing the prices,” Dighole explained, adding that the move came after the onion prices increased by 10 per cent in August compared with July.

Onion farmers from Nashik district had protested the against the export duty and closed closed auctions at the APMC.

In August, the central government decided to procure onions at Rs 2,410 per quintal after it saw an increase in rates by 20 per cent compared to 2022. Government agencies like National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) and National Cooperative Consumers’ Federation of India Limited (NCCF) were ordered to sell onions at subsidised rates of Rs 25 per kg.

The export duty led to huge losses as onion prices were expected to fetch around Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 per quintal but crashed to Rs 1500 to Rs 2000 per quintal at present, said Dighole.

“The farmers suffered losses of almost 50 per cent due to such steps. Repeated protests and demonstrations have not helped. Why doesn’t the government intervene to increase prices when onion prices drop to give justice to the farmers?” he asked.

Read more: Maharashtra onion crisis: Farmers bearing the brunt of low demand, poor export

“We have not been able to recover from losses faced due to excess rains in April earlier this year which resulted in damage of about 50 per cent of the harvest,” the farmer added. Farmers are working to establish a chain of market starting with metro cities by creating their own selling platforms, he further said.

“Onion producers will register themselves online and would be involved in the chain from packaging to selling directly to the consumers. The process will begin as trials and prices will be controlled to ensure that farmers do not suffer losses and do not burn a hole in customers’ pockets,” he said.

The move is aimed at taking charge of the onion rates by farmers, which is currently controlled by traders.

Traders may directly purchase onions from them by raising demand. “It will be a step to give a cushion to farmers and make farming sustainable. There are 500,000 farmers in the association and it is expected that about five per cent will join the initiative in the initial phase,” Dighole said.

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