Onion prices have skyrocketed to Rs 150 a kg in retail markets despite supplies coming in from Afghanistan. However, despite the fact that prices of onion fluctuate every year after the monsoon season, there are hardly any takers for processing of the vegetable, to convert it to dried flakes, powder or paste. Experts from the Central Institute of Post Harvest Technology (CIPHET), Ludhiana, say that this, if done in summers when prices of onion are low, can save consumers from high prices.
Dr Vikas Kumar, senior scientist of the technology transfer division of CIPHET — a department that organises training programs — said, “Training programmes for farmers continue at our centre throughout the year in which we teach them how to process fruits and vegetables so as to reduce post-harvest losses. Farmers either come on paid training sessions or sometimes even attend sponsored training sessions. Normally, programmes are sponsored by the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA). Farmers, budding entrepreneurs come to us for training so as to earn profit and reduce post-harvest losses. They come from across the country in groups. However, they take interest in post-harvest training on turmeric, pomegranate, fruits and vegetables. In vegetables, we cover onion processing as well in the course, but no farmer group or non-farmer group has come specially for training only on onion processing so far.”
He added, “Drying onions is very simple. It can be converted into flakes, powder or paste. Through our solar dryer…it gets dried up fast. Dried onion has an export market as well. But in India, it is yet to catch fancy as every year onion prices become a cause of concern for the masses.”
CIPHET had introduced training on onion processing in 2007 under which around 100 kg of onions are dehydrated to 14-16 kg dried flakes. They have a shelf life of more than 9 months and can be rehydrated in water before consumption to get 5-6 times of dehydrated onions. Though there are some onion processing units in Gujarat and Maharastra but none in Punjab, most of the dehydrated onion is exported with little use in domestic market.
In 2015, soon after yet another onion price hike, Union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had suggested that onions be dehydrated when they are cheap and hence can be sold during lean period. When asked about her department’s initiative to deal with the price rise, she had said, “We have set up the Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology in Perambalur district of Tamil Nadu and have initiated a ‘Mission Onion Program’ a concept to double the income of farmers by 2022.” However, this program was started in August 2017, and hence afterwards, the department had no other details to share regarding onion processing.
Dr Shailender Kaur, director, horticulture, Punjab, said, “Area under onion in Punjab is 9,360 hectares — it is 0.9 per cent of the total area under horticulture in Punjab. All onion varieties are not processable, still PAU developed one variety last year but it is being grown in a controlled area as of now. Moreover, consumers are not very adaptable to using processed onions as of now.”
Meanwhile Gurvinder Singh, a wholesale onion seller in Ludhiana’s sabzi mandi, said, “Onions have started coming from Afghanistan as well. I think situation will start improving in a fortnight. As of now low quality onion available in mandi at Rs 50 a kg and good quality at Rs 80-85 a kg…but this is the wholesale price and hence retailers always add their margins.”
In Ludhiana’s retail market in Sarabha Nagar, Ghumar Mandi and even in Apni Mandi onion was priced at Rs 120-150 a kg.