Bumper onion yields earlier this year gave farmers in northern Bangladesh reason to rejoice, but the lack of adequate storage facilities has clouded their prospects of profiting from the cash crop, as weather conditions Unfavorable conditions continue to wreak havoc on their products, according to market players. .
Md Kamruzzaman, a farmer and trader from Durgapur village in Sujanagar upazila of Pabna, cultivated onions on 82 bighas of land to produce over 5,000 maunds of the crop.
He then stored about 3,000 tons of onions in his homemade bamboo warehouses in March with a view to selling them all year round. However, he now worries that he can save even half of the harvest.
“The scorching heat and untimely rains are causing massive damage to the onions in my warehouses,” Kamruzzaman said,
Farmers expect about 10 kilograms (kg) of their onions to be damaged when stored in homemade warehouses, but prevailing bad weather has increased the margin to between 15 and 18 kg this year, a he added.
Md Chand Miah, another onion grower from the same village, told the Daily Star that about 30% of his produce has rotted and he is now concerned about recouping production costs.
“It cost over Tk 1,200 per maund to grow onions this year, but the market price was Tk 800-900 per maund during harvest time,” he said.
“And even though each maund is currently selling for Tk 1,300, the damage to my crops means I have to reckon on losses of Tk 200 per maund,” Miah added.
The onion grower went on to say that farmers are forced to store onions in homemade warehouses due to the lack of modern facilities in the region.
Also, farmers cannot control the temperature and humidity levels inside a bamboo granary and as a result stored onions are at risk of being destroyed as they remain at the mercy of the weather, a Miah said.
However, Shoilendronath Majumder, scientific director of the Spice Research Center in Bogura, informed that there are no designated storage facilities available for onions as they have not yet perfected the required technology.
He then said that a trial cold store was being built in Bogura at a cost of Tk 4 crore.
“After establishing the storage, we will continue our research,” Majumder added.
According to data from the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), more than 9 lakh tons of onions are damaged every year due to the poor preservation system, forcing the government to import about the same amount in order to meet the demand. interior.
In 2020-2021, onions were grown on a total of 2.53 lakh hectares of land to produce 33,562 tons of the kitchen staple.
“Of the quantity produced that year, 8.5 lakh tons were damaged and we had to import about 8 lakh tons to make up for the supply shortage,” said Md Jahidul Amin, director of the crops wing of the DAE.
Onion imports usually take place during the harvest season at the beginning of March to avoid any supply crisis in local markets.
This year, onions were grown on 2.59 hectares of land to produce 36.4 lakh tons, of which about 10 lakh bulbs were damaged.
“If we could reduce these losses, we would be able to boost onion production,” he said.
“Therefore, we need specialized cold stores for onion because development of such facilities in Pabna, Faridpur and other growing areas would help save crops and subsequently reduce imports.
Farmers say another reason for their losses is lack of proper planning as they do not get the expected prices even though huge amounts of foreign currency are spent to import the bulbs every year.
“I produced more than 6 million onions this year, but we didn’t sell them after the harvest due to the low price,” said Liton Mondol, another onion producer.
Like others, more than 30% of Mondol’s stored onions have rotted and he is now worried about being able to sell the remaining portion in time.
Also, it costs him an extra Tk 100-150 in labor to pack a bunch of fresh onions after separating them from the stored rotten ones.
“So it costs around Tk 1,250 to prepare each onion maund but as the market prices are the same. I have to face a loss of 20-25% this year,” Liton said, adding that similarly affected farmers lose interest in the crop. the harvest.
However, DAE’s Majumder said farmers could develop enough storage systems on their own.
“If the farmers put in place heat protection by selling under the tin roof of the bamboo granary and store the onions 6-9 inches above the ground while ensuring sufficient air circulation, then the loss will be reduced. “, did he declare.
On the other hand, farmers claim that they do not have enough space or funds to develop their artisanal warehouses in this way.
“Onion is one of the most important cash crops for farmers, but we are struggling to recoup production costs,” said Kamruzzaman from Durgapur village.
“At the moment, we don’t have enough funds to develop our storage systems and therefore we need government support to boost onion production,” he added.