Agri Business

Onion storage: India should explore Israel, Brazil models, says Ficci

PTI New Delhi | Updated on November 08, 2019

Onion, being high in water content, is a delicate commodity to store. Photo: Sushil Kumar Veram   -  The Hindu

India, which is currently witnessing a spike in retail onion prices, with rates goign up to ₹100/kg on tight supply, should explore low-cost modern technology models from countries like Israel and Brazil to store the commodity, industry body Ficci said on Friday.

The government’s Tomato Onion Potato (TOP) scheme announced in the 2018-19 Budget was expected to address the problem of surplus in producing areas, but the scheme has not taken off, it said, adding that the government should provide railway rakes to reduce transportation cost.

Read | Onion storage: India should explore Israel, Brazil models, says Ficci

Ficci stated that ad-hocism in export bans had serious repercussions and there was a need to remove onion from the purview of the Essential Commodities Act and undertake agriculture marketing reforms to facilitate direct purchase from the farmer in a transparent way.

Towards sustainable strategies

Onion, being high in water content, is a delicate commodity to store. Up to 40 per cent of the total produced onions can be damaged in some areas in periods of high rainfall due to non-availability of appropriate post-harvest storage facilities, it added.

“Many factors have contributed to the run-up in onion prices this year. ...However, the seasonal price and arrival pattern of onion could give some directions to strategies for a sustainable policy in future,” Ficci said in a report submitted to the government.

To address the current onion crisis, Ficci said the government should focus on a long-term solution including studying the Israel and Brazel models and making investment in low cost modern technology for storing onion.

The Israeli way

“In Israel, onions are stored in open ventilated warehouses with continuous forced air-ventilation through a stack of sets in bulk or bulk bins. Adoption of such measures will help in storage of onions with innovative methods during the bumper production seasons and reducing the fluctuations in onion prices. Such methods should be studied and customised for Indian conditions,” it said.

To ensure cost-effective storage of onions, Ficci said emphasis should be laid on building low-cost farm gate storage.

Brazil’s system

In Brazil, for the procurement and storage of onions, a low-cost ventilated silo system is being used at the farm level. Refrigerated storage rooms the most efficient system, are also used, it said.

In India, startups such as Inficold Inc are using multi-commodity efficient farm-level cooling systems for perishables. Low-cost thatched bamboo storage has been promoted by the government under the Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture. “However, we need better technology to reduce losses during monsoon,” it said.

Onion is cultivated in various parts of India almost throughout the year and can be made available in fresh form, except in the months of July, August and September.

Poor storage practices

To maintain regular supply in this lean period of about three months, onions are being traditionally stored in ventilated warehouses (in bulk) where the losses are very high (ranging between 20-40 per cent mainly because of poor pre-harvest and post-harvest practices).

“There is a need to invest in research to find an optimum technological solution for storage of onion. The losses are likely to come down to about 5-10 per cent by following standard operating procedure of storage,” Ficci said.

Tech innovations

Besides that, the method of storing onion should not be considered similar to normal agriculture produce such as grain and potatoes.

“Technological innovations for storing onions are required in long run. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) research institutes and State Agriculture Universities should play a serious role and government should engage with Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and other research institutions,” Ficci said.

Developing production protocols and standardisation of onions requires focussed research and result-oriented planning by the ICAR-established Directorate of Onion and Garlic Research, it added.

Among other solutions, Ficci said the government should undertake a special campaign to promote processed onion and increase investment in producing the dehydrated variety of onions, which has a long shelf life and has export potential.

Huge wastage

It may be noted that the government is currently incurring losses due to 25 per cent wastage in the buffer stock of 57,000 tonnes onions created for the first time.

Onion prices have risen sharply because of excessive rains in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh which produce 60 per cent of India’s onion.

External factors such as climatic changes, deficient rainfall, leading to delayed sowing, and abnormally high rainfall in September were beyond the control of the government, the industry added.

Published on November 08, 2019

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