Onion,the bulbous vegetable that brings tears to the eyes,may soon script be a happy story for the farmers of Orissa.
Long used to exploitation by unscrupulous traders and being underpaid by regulated marketing committees,onion farmers may finally have something to cheer about this season,with the state government facilitating a marketing tie-up between them and Futures Group,a supermarket chain.
Though far away from Nashik,the Maharashtra region that is Asias biggest onion production centre,Orissa is among the top-10 onion producing states in India. In 2010-11,it grew 3.8 lakh tonnes of onion on 34,750 hectares of area,up from 2.59 lakh tonnes on 28,508 hectares in 2006-07. In 2011-12,the horticulture department estimates the total production to touch over 4 lakh tonnes on 40,000 hectares.
Though the black soil in Bolangir,Angul and Boudh districts are conducive to onion crop,the farmers here dont get the market price. A typical 50 kg onion bag costing Rs 100 to the trader would actually weigh 60 kg on a correct scale. But the farmer has no other way than to undersell his produce to the market as he does not have warehousing facilities that would ensure the crop can be stored for three to four more months. Our aim is to get the Orissa farmers the same price as Nashik farmers are getting, says Horticulture Director Sanjiv Chadha.
The horticulture department will soon sign an agreement with the Kishore Biyani-owned Futures Group,which will source onions directly from the farmers in Bolangir,Angul and Boudh and make immediate payment. Once the agreement is in place,the farmers would get the money directly credited to their accounts. The farmers would have to form registered committees through which they would sell their produce. They would also not be cheated as the produce would be weighed on electronic scales, said Sushant Ranjan Das,a climatologist of the department who is overseeing the market-farmer tie-up plan.
A 40-member team of officials from the horticulture department will soon visit the National Horticultural Research and Development Foundation in Nashik to get training on the onion farmer-market linkage.
For the Futures Group,sourcing onions from Bolangir or Angul makes much economic sense. For our supermarkets in New Delhi,Hyderabad and Kolkata,onions from Nashik and Karnataka would be expensive as the transportation cost is more. But for Hyderabad and Kolkata markets,the onions from Orissa would come with cheaper transportation costs, said Tejpal Jadhav,an assistant manager of Futures Group,who deals with sourcing of fruits and vegetable. Of course,the farmers would have to produce onions of the size between 45 mm and 65 mm,which the market demands.
Apart from market linkage,the government is working on building bamboo warehouses that would ensure the farmers can store their produce for three to four more months and get a better price when the onion prices shoot up in October and November. Officials hope the 150-odd 25-tonne capacity warehouses being built by farmers with 50 per cent subsidy would help store the onion bulbs a little longer.
To boost onion production,the department has just started onion farming in Kharif season too. Orissa,which grows onion as a Rabi crop,harvests it in April,May and June. This year,we have grown Kharif onion using 55 quintal seed sourced from NHRDF. Next Kharif,we plan to grow onion over 300 hectares. If the market linkage is successful and more farmers start growing onion as a cash crop,Orissa can be among the top five onion producers of India in the next 10 years, says Chadha.