Onion production has almost doubled in the country in last eight years with farmers getting handsome returns which can help boost cultivation of the spice item, insiders said.
Despite having a robust domestic production, big importers and their allied traders hold a major market share, depriving the consumers of buying onion at cheaper rate, market observers said.
Official data showed that onion output has increased by 93.5 per cent in the country in last eight years between fiscal year (FY) 2008 and FY 2015.
Onion production has increased to 1.704 million tonnes in FY'15 from 0.889 million tonnes in FY'08, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) data showed. Onion acreage increased to 0.191 million hectares in FY'16 from 0.135 million hectares in FY'08, according to the BBS data.
Onion output increased sharply in last three years. In FY'13, production reached 1.168 million tonnes while it increased to 1.387 million tonnes in FY'14 and 1.704 million tonnes in FY'15.
The government projected an annual output of 1.9 million tonnes in FY'16. The final data will be made public within few days, said an official at the Agriculture Wing of BBS.
Deputy Director of Horticulture Wing under Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) Dr Md Azhar Ali said the country is now almost self-sufficient in onion.
Land brought under onion farming and its production have increased significantly in last few years as farmers have been getting handsome prices, he said, adding that onion acreage increased in more districts apart from Pabna, Faridpur and Jessore regions.
Mr Ali said varieties of high-yielding seed supplied by state-run Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC), private seed companies and farmers help increase production.
In Bangladesh, onion is grown and harvested between November and April.
Department of Agricultural Marketing (DAM) Assistant Director TM Rashed Khan said onion farmers made 20-80 per cent profits for last five years.
An onion farmer gets Tk 22-25 a kg against production cost of Tk 14-Tk 16 a kg in 2015--- a 56-57 per cent profit.
In 2014, farmers gained 80 per cent returns compared to their investment including their labourer's cost, Mr Khan said.
A commerce ministry official told the FE that the country's demand for onion is above 2.0 million tonnes considering more than 52 million of households, 1.8 million of restaurants and hotels and 5,000 agro-processing companies.
He said mounting demand following rising income of the people has helped increase both local production and import.
Onion import was hardly 0.15 to 0.2 million tonnes in 2008-09 which increased to 0.5 to 0.7 million tonnes worth Tk 15.0 to Tk 18.0 billion in recent years.
The country imports onion mainly from India while a substantial quantity is also brought from Myanmar and Turkey.
Md Abul Bashar Munshi, a leading trader in Faridpur region, said the stock of local onion ran out before the September-October period and its prices started rising since then.
"But now you can find local varieties even in December when seed onion (locally known as murikata) started hit the market," he added.
He said despite increase in local production, big importers and their allied traders are dominating the market.
He claimed that the prices of both local and imported varieties are always set by big importers at Shyambazar in Dhaka, Khatunganj in Chittagong and Benapole in Jessore.
Narayan Chandra Saha, a Shyambazar-based onion importer in the city, told the FE that importers fixed the prices based on import costs.
Usually the price of local variety is higher compared to that of imported variety, but the price fluctuates depending on domestic production and import costs, he added.
Mr Saha said onion traders in Pabna, Faridpur, Jessore and Kushtia regions have control over a major portion of the essential produced locally.
Prices of both local and imported varieties of onion have increased by Tk 2-3 per kg in a week in the kitchen markets. It was selling at Tk 25-Tk 35 (imported) and Tk 40-Tk 45 (local) a kg, according to kitchen market sources.