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With fresh supplies on the way, the great onion crisis might come to an end

A new onion crop should help ease what has been a catastrophic year for the vegetable in the world's second-most populous nation

Pratik Parija | Bloomberg 

Onion (Photos by : Kamlesh Pednekar)
Onion | Photos by : Kamlesh Pednekar

India’s rampant prices may finally be running out of steam, with fresh supplies of the pungent vegetable set to hit the market next month.

Prices at one of India’s biggest wholesale may plunge to about 20-25 rupees per kilogram from mid-January, according to Jaydatta Sitaram Holkar, a director at Agricultural Produce Market Committee, a state-run wholesale market for farm commodities at Lasalgaon in Maharashtra. That’s more than 80% below Tuesday’s record price.

A new crop should help ease what has been a catastrophic year for the vegetable in the world’s second-most populous nation. Soaring prices have been blamed for accelerating food inflation and even triggering thefts and fist fights, according to some reports.

The key ingredient for Indian curries and chutneys is so ubiquitous that economists are keeping a close eye on prices for signs of when the central bank may cut rates.

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The country usually produces more onions than it needs. But this year, heavy rains and flooding damaged stockpiles as well as the monsoon crop in the main growing areas, according to Siraj Hussain, a visiting senior fellow at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.

The government sought to control prices by banning exports, restricting hoarding and increasing imports, yet the rally continued with shipments from overseas not due to arrive until Dec. 27.

Prices surged to a record 111 rupees per kilogram on Dec. 17, according to Narendra Savaliram Wadhavane, a secretary at the state-run wholesale market. Average wholesale prices are still about 80 rupees per kilogram, compared with about 15 rupees in June and July.

Hussain, who is also a former agriculture secretary, warned that the government’s decision to limit onion stockpiles could hurt farmers when prices come down again as they’ll be forced to sell despite poor profit margins. Prices are historically volatile, sinking to as low as 0.5 to 1 rupee per kilogram toward the end of 2018.

First Published: Fri, December 20 2019. 07:10 IST
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