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Onion, a problematic crop




  • Onion is an important crop of Pakistan, being both a popular vegetable and a condiment at the same time. Hardly any food dish is prepared without it. It is also important as it is an exportable crop. Alongwith its importance, the onion is vulnerable to periodic crises – some times on account of the shortfall in the two main onion producing provinces of Sindh and Balochistan or delayed harvesting and occasionally due to heavy export.

    Tracing the history and nature of the onion crises to a number of years in the past, it is revealed that the worst of these crises took place in 1983-84 due to a serious shortfall in Balochistan coupled with unusual delayed harvesting in Sindh with its heavy movement to export outlets.

    Another crisis, although of less intensity, over-took the country after about six years in 1989-90 because of some new factors viz less area sown in the Punjab, un-timely rains and a wet spell and un-favourable conditions of the NWFP crop.

    Again, after only three years, during 1992-93, the country was confronted with an onion crisis causing acute shortage in supplies and abnormally high prices on account of the extensive damage caused to the Sindh main winter crop by unprecedented floods (which practically washed it away, requiring re-sowing).

    Still, another onion crisis repeated itself in the closing months of 1998 mainly due to the record export destined to India mostly by the land-route where the onion crop met with failure. Besides India, onion export continued as usual to the Gulf states, Sri Lanka, Singapore and China.

    The latest onion crisis, although of short duration, occurred in November 2003 and is still continuing although with lesser intensity and shall be averted completely by the increased supply of the crop (which had been unusually delayed due to its washing away by heavy rains soon after sowing, requiring resowing). Now with the advent of Ramazan, this year as usual onions are selling at exorbitant prices almost all over the country.

    With the crisis occurring again and again after the lapse of a few years, the government should be extra vigilant about the onion situation as any negligence in this regard could create a number of problems.

    Suggestions:

    In order to cope with the problems caused by the oft-repeated onion crisis, it is suggested that an early warning system should be introduced for the onion crop on the pattern of agriculturally developed countries.

    Under this system, close and regular watch is kept by the agricultural extension and marketing personnel right from the intention-to-sow upto harvesting and to moving the crop to the market. For this purpose periodic signals are given of the condition of the crop at various states.

    And whenever any wrong is detected proper instructions are given to correct the adverse situation.

    PROFILE:

    Onion is grown in all the four provinces of the country in varying volumes and with different harvesting seasons. The share of individual provinces in the country’s onion production along with harvesting seasons is given in

    It is the Sindh winter crop which is exported abroad because of its best quality. It is also greater volume-wise. The Balochistan crop feeds the other three provinces during September-November.

    Area and production of onion in the four provinces during the five years, ending 2003, are given in Table-II.

    Onion prices failed to adopt any regular trend during the period under review as is evident from the national annual average wholesellers prices provided in Table-III.

    TABLE-1

    ===========================================
    Province Share in % Harvesting season
    -------------------------------------------
    Punjab 20 May-June
    Sindh 40 Dec-March (Winter Crop)
    April-May (Summer Crop)
    NWFP 10 April-June
    Balochistan 30 September-November
    ===========================================

    TABLE-II

    ===================================================================
    Area in '000' Hectares
    Production in '000' Tonnes
    Year Punjab Sindh NWFP Balochistan
    Area Prod. Area Prod. Area Prod. Area Prod.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------
    1998-99 225.7 21.0 430.3 33.5 90.2 6.3 330.3 20.6
    1999-2000 230.8 22.2 457.0 34.5 120.5 8.1 329.9 20.7
    2000-2001 247.6 22.5 703.8 49.4 147.0 9.9 549.6 28.0
    2001-2002 152.2 23.1 739.3 51.8 201.5 10.6 371.2 20.1
    2002-2003 160.1 23.9 596.6 49.8 183.2 9.6 380.2 20.5
    ===================================================================

    TABLE-III

    ==========================
    Prices in Rs 40/Kg.
    --------------------------
    1998-99 453.02
    1999-2000 161.21
    2000-2001 279.91
    2001-2002 225.02
    2002-2003 275.08
    ==========================

    Source Federal Marketing Department (GoP)

    EXPORTS Like prices, exports also did not maintain any regular trend as is evidenced by the figures in Table IV.

    TABLE IV

    ===================================
    Qty in Tonnes
    Value in '000' Rs
    -----------------------------------
    Quantity Value
    -----------------------------------
    1998-99 67,793 1,200,064
    1999-2000 128,672 1,028,669
    2000-2001 77,168 601,289
    2001-2002 53,379 332,887
    2002-2003 63,710 355,715
    ===================================

    Source: Federal Board of Statistic (FBS)

    With a view to keeping the growers interested in the cultivation of this important crop, the government fixes its support prices periodically commensurate with its cost of production.

    In the event of increased production, with the export remaining dormant and market prices falling below the support price arrangements exist to purchase the commodity by the government at support prices.

    It is expected that the onion situation in the future shall remain under control by introducing an early warning system of crop and undertaking other proper policy measures as required from time to time. However, there should be no room for any complacency.

    Courtesy: Business Recorder

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