Extreme weather events, Russia-Ukriane war escalating onion prices globally

Countries banning exports to stabilise prices; posing threat to food security and nutrition
Droughts, cyclones, floods and Russian invasion of Ukraine are the major factors driving up onion prices. Photo: iStock
Droughts, cyclones, floods and Russian invasion of Ukraine are the major factors driving up onion prices. Photo: iStock

At least 10 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa have witnessed the prices of the essential vegetable onion go up due to extreme weather events and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Several countries have banned exports of the allium to counter the price rise, raising concerns about food security and nutrition. 

Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Austria and Morocco — have seen an upsurge in onion prices. 

Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Austria and Morocco have now prohibited onion exports. The restriction also covered other vegetables and fruits like carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and apples, hampering availability and food security worldwide, the United Nations and the World Bank warned this month.  

Three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet, according to FAO. For the poorest countries — especially in Sub-Saharan Africa — it’s unaffordable for most of the population.

So, the global crisis due to soaring prices and the ban imposed on exports of vegetables and fruits threatens global nutrition. 

Key factors increasing the prices

Droughts, cyclones, floods and Russian invasion of Ukraine are the major factors driving up the prices. The average price in the Philippines has continued to surpass the global average price since September 2022. Onions are now four times more expensive than they were in September 2022, said media reports.

The cost of red onions, used in almost all Philippine dishes, increased by over 33.3 times between April and December 2022.

It had increased to 700 pesos or Rs 3,512 a kg in December 2022 from around 70 pesos or Rs 105.18 a kilogramme in April 2022. 

The vegetable price then fell to 550 pesos or Rs 2,476 per kg, according to the country’s Department of Agriculture. This meant that the humble bulb was still three times more expensive than the price of chicken in the market and 25 per cent costlier than beef. 

Floods due to Super Typhoon Karding/Noru in September 2022, followed by Typhoon Paeng/Nalgae in October 2022 affected the onion crop leading to a price rise. The hike in input prices, including fertilisers, pesticides and human resources, too, contributed to the rise in the price of onions in the Philippines.

“The Department will bolster its effort in curbing price manipulation and other market abuses,” Assistant Secretary for DA Inspectorate & Enforcement (I & E) James A Layug said in a statement on the departmental website February 22, 2023.

Morocco is facing food inflation and has banned the export of onions, tomatoes and potatoes to West African countries. The cold snap recorded in Morocco from January-February 2023, coupled with higher fertiliser costs, led to the rise in prices. At the same time, the demand from Europe has also increased. 

“The supply from Spain and Portugal has fallen in the last two weeks, given the weather conditions. European importers have fallen back on Moroccan products. The demand for tomatoes, peppers, raspberries, and blueberries has skyrocketed, and with it, the prices,” said Mehdi Benchekroun, chief executive of the Moroccan exporter DMB & CO, in a media report.

Since September 2022, onion prices in the Netherlands have remained high due to limited supply. The country faced one of the driest years on record, affecting crop yield.

Two consecutive floods in November and December 2022 affected the crops in Turkey. Of these, the floods on December 12, 2022, were the worst in 50 years.

In November 2022, Turkey restricted the export of fresh potatoes and onions to “ensure food supply security and price stability in fresh potatoes and onions in our country”.

Onion prices in Ukraine hit an all-time record high in the history of the country’s independence, said a report by the horticulture business website East Fruit. A large part of the onions in storage became unsuitable for consumption due to constant power outages and contributed to the price rise.

South Africa, too, reported a sharp rise in vegetable prices — at 5.2 per cent between December 2022 and January 2023.

Unusual frost in central Asia

Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and other countries of Central Asia reported unusual frosts in the winter of 2022, which significantly skyrocketed the prices of vegetables, including onions. The crops of the allium in both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan suffered a loss due to the extreme weather event. 

The demand from Pakistan and Uzbekistan for Kazakhstan onions surged and the country banned the export of onions for three months on January 18, 2023. 

“The rush demand of third countries for Kazakh onions is associated with natural disasters in Pakistan, one of the largest onion producers in Asia and globally. Floods in Pakistan caused a global increase in prices for onions, including in the market of our republic,” the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Kazakhstan stated on January 18, 2023. 

The main onion producer began to import the Kazakh onions actively, it added.

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