A known tear-jerker, the onion has left thousands of Madhya Pradesh farmers in gloom as they are not able to recover their input cost after selling their harvest this year as the Covid-19 lockdown has crippled their supply chain.
Madhya Pradesh, alongside Maharashtra and Karnataka, is a prominent onion grower and supplies this kitchen staple to the entire country and some neighbouring nations as well.
However, as the lockdown dried up the buying spree and hindered transportation of the commodity to far off places, prices amid a production glut have crashed leaving farmers in despair.
After rain damaged crops last year in MP and other states, prices had skyrocketed, with onions at retail outlets selling at Rs 120 plus a kg. Wholesalers also had minted money by selling onions at up to Rs 70-80 a kg then.
However, the joy was limited to those whose crops were spared by the furious rains.
This year, despite a bumper crop, the onion farmers are left disgruntled as prices have slipped below input cost.
Till a couple of days prior to the nationwide lockdown, onions were selling at Rs 11-12 per kg in wholesale, but as the restrictive guidelines came into effect, prices halved in no time, Dilip Patidar, a farmer from Mandsaur, said. Mandsaur along with Neemuch produces this commodity in bulk in the state.
“I could only get Rs 12,000 selling my harvest which is not even sufficient to buy seeds for the next season,” Patidar added, saying garlic, another prominent crop in the region, is also selling at around 7,000 per quintal, almost half the price it normally fetches after harvest.
The farmer only received Rs 2 a kg return for his 50 quintal plus crops. "Supplies had ceased from Mandsaur to elsewhere amid the lockdown which left the region with plenty of produce and we had to sell the crop as monsoon is coming," Patidar said, adding that superior quality onion is selling at Rs 4-5 a kg.
Kantilal Mukati, a farmer from Hatpiplya in Dewas, which will have an assembly bypoll soon, also said that onion is fetching Rs 5-6 per kg this season. Both the ticket aspirants of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Deepak Joshi and Manoj Chaudhary, have written to chief minister Shivraj Chouhan for better rates of onion but nothing happened, said Mukati, adding that they earned up to Rs 70 a kg last year amid shortage of onion during monsoon.
Mukati, however, has sold half his harvest and is waiting for prices to improve.
In retail markets, onion is selling at Rs 10 in major cities including Bhopal these days.
Mohan Pandey, a Bharatiya Kisan Union leader from Mhow in Indore, said that last year the onion was included in the bhavantar (price difference payment) scheme amid a price slip in summer. Those payments are still due from the government, added Pandey, maintaining Rs 29 crore is yet to be paid for onion crops sold to MP government last year by 7,000 Indore farmers.
"Our union agriculture minister (Narendra Singh Tomar) says lockdown did not affect agriculture," Pandey said, adding that onion prices crashed in Nimar region like for other crops such as cauliflower, tomato, etc, as there were no buyers. The government should buy onions from farmers at Rs 15 a kg and store them in warehouses until prices improve," demanded Pandey.