August 5, 2015 3:03:35 am
Any leap in onion prices, as seen of late, brings the largest onion market in Asia into the picture. However, a special irradiation unit in Lasalgaon in Nashik to eliminate microbes and increase shelf life of onion goes almost unnoticed by farmers and traders. It has been underutilised.
Onion traders and farmers say simple modifications are needed in the unit set up by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to make it economically feasible for them. Set up by the then NDA government in 2002 at a cost of around Rs 8 crore, the Krushi Utpadan Sanskaran Kendra (KRUSHI) in Lasalgaon was to help irradiate onions and mangoes. The unit can irradiate 3 tonnes onions per hour. It has been sparingly used.
Sushil Chavan, radiation officer of the Maharashtra State Agricultural Marketing Board (MSAMB), said last year the unit was used for irradiating 30 tonnes of onion.
Chavan said the unit has been sparingly used although the MSAMB had undertaken various outreach programmes for traders and farmers. The unit within 500 metres of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) market, Lasalgaon, goes unnoticed.
Deepak Pagar, a farmer said he knew the unit was used for irradiation of mangoes but was not aware it could be used for onions.
Mangoes for export are brought to Lasalgaon for irradiation. It involves exposing the produce to gamma radiation for a short period of time. This kills microbes and increases shelf life. The summer crop of onions harvested early April if irradiated can be stored for more than six-seven months.
Many farmers point out that the unit does not make economic sense as the process is labour intensive. Nanasaheb Patil, president of Lasalgaon APMC said irradiation involves loading the produce onto trolleys in gunny bags, sending it to the chamber and unloading it after the process. “Onions come to the market in trucks. If we take them for irradiation then it would involve extra cost in gunny bags, labour etc. Although charges of irradiation are low, the additional cost makes it non-viable,” he said. Irradiation charges for onion was as low as 15 paise per qunital but transport and labour expenses come to Rs 50-60 per qunital.
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