Onions from Pakistan and Afghanistan may find their way to Indian kitchens by the end of the year as the kharif output of the vegetable is threatening to dwindle. The Prime Minister’s Office Wednesday authorised the government to import onions from the two countries to stabilise prices in the event of low yield.
Reports from Maharashtra about a possible low kharif output of onion sent alarm bells ringing in the government, which went into a huddle Wednesday. Sources said with several Assembly elections slated for the year, the government does not want to take a chance with onion prices turning into a political self-goal.
The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED) has been asked to prepare the ground and negotiate prices with the source countries. Initially, the approval is for around 20,000 tonnes, sources said. India’s annual onion output touched a record 19.2 million tonnes in 2013-14. Usually it hovered around 16 million tonnes. Based on the price trend, the quantity may increase as well.
Some undulation of the prices of onion towards the end of the calendar year is almost a yearly phenomenon as the inventory of the rabi yield of onions exhausts and the kharif yield taken to the market.
This year, thanks to the delayed and then deficient monsoon, the kharif output from Maharashtra, the country’s largest onion producer, is expected to be less hence threatening to create a shortfall and impact prices — a chance the government is not willing to take.
“Good news is that the yield in Karnataka is looking up. We hope it is good enough to tide over any shortfall. The government is preparing for any eventuality,” said a government official. Karnataka is the second largest producer of the vegetable after Maharashtra.
The prices NAFED fixes for the import would have to be viable to states which would do the actual import.
The government has sent instructions to its 60 centres across India to track wholesale and retail price trends in the traditionally onion-deficit states. NAFED has already done some preliminary work in this direction, the PMO was informed.