In the central Indian state of
Madhya Pradesh there’s chaos, and it’s all because of onions.
Farmers are throwing their produce away, or selling it for virtually nothing.
After strong prices last year, farmers planted many more onions this year. It’s created a bumper harvest, which has flooded the market and caused prices to crash.
Shuriah Niazi has the story.
In the city of Indore, farmers are protesting against the abysmal drop in prices because of the onion glut.
Amost 5,000 kilograms of onions have been tossed. Discarded, they now line the roadsides of Madhya Pradesh. They are even becoming a traffic problem.
Last year, onions sold for as high as $1.20 per kilogram, prompting farmers to shift to planting them this year.
But this year volatile prices have hit farmers hard, says onion farmer Makhan Patel.
“We have lost the money we invested in the crop. We have gained nothing by going for onions. We should get at least 20 cents per kilogram, only then we will recover our costs and be able to survive,” Patel explains.
Onions are an essential ingerdient to any Indian dish. In the past, high prices of onions have sparked unrest and outrage. But this year it is the opposite problem.
Farmer Raj Patidar explains.
“When the prices of onions were high the government stopped all exports. Authorities even raided premises of farmers and traders so that stocked onions could be sold in the market,” Patidar says.
“But this year it is opposite. No one has come forward to help onion growers who have incurred huge losses.”
As a mark of solidarity with the aggrieved farmers, the state opposition Congress party recently staged a protest demanding higher prices for onions.
Farmers feel that scarcity and high prices over the last few years encouraged them to plant more onions this year.
Rajendra Sharma is the President of the Onion and Potato Association of India.
“The farmers are suffering because during the last two to three years the prices of onions were quite high. Anticipating a good demand for onions, farmers this year planted more, leading to surplus production and a price crash,” Sharma says.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an “E-mandi” scheme in April this year.
The scheme joined 600 vegetable markets throughout the country under the National Agriculture Market Portal, allowing farmers to sell their produce to the market with the best price.
However, experts say the inititaive hasn’t really benefited farmers that much, who as smallholders, can’t afford the transportation costs.
Rajendra Sharma explains.
“The E-mandi is not going to help farmers in any way in India right now. Such initiatives are helpful in developed countries only, where each and every produce is graded and brought to the market. Here we have large number of farmers who are having small land holdings so they are not going to get any benefit.”
Those who are benefiting most from the onion crisis are middlemen, who aren’t really selling the onions for that cheap.
It means that on the one hand farmers are suffering because of low prices, and on the other consumers are not getting the real benefit of low prices.
Consumers, like housewife Hemlata Agrawal, believe that farmers should be doing better.
“Middlemen and traders are the real beneficiaries. They are exploiting the situation. Neither we the consumers, nor the farmers are getting any benefit,” Agrawal complained.
Earlier this month the Madhya Pradesh state government decided to offer some help.
They are buying onions for about 10 cents a kilogram, but they can’t buy them all.
With a history of high farmer suicides in the state, experts are worried another crisis could trigger an outbreak of depression among farmers.