Agri Business

Soaring onion prices leave consumers in tears in Chennai

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on December 06, 2019

Premium Nashik variety costs Rs 200 a kg in Chennai; supply from Nashik and Bellary has dropped by over 90 per cent

The Indian onion is stronger than the British pound and the American dollar — that’s the latest joke doing the rounds on social media. Another meme has customers paying an auto driver in onions. These jokes and memes are a reflection of people’s anger and frustration at the sharp spike in onion prices. The price of the premium Nashik variety has nearly doubled to ₹200 in Chennai over the last one month. The cost of the next best onion variety, from Bellary in Karnataka, is around ₹160.

Onion prices have shot up due to the huge shortage of India’s ubiquitous kitchen staple in the last three to four months following heavy rain in Maharashtra and Karnataka, the main growing regions, which affected crops.

“I have never seen onion prices go beyond ₹150 in my life,” said Sekar, a vegetable vendor in Triplicane.

And, if you want to have a mouthwatering onion bhaji or onion uthappam in a restaurant, be prepared to shell out a few bucks more. Due to the shortage, there is no onion in the ‘raithas’ usually served with a ‘parantha’ or a ‘biriyani.’ In fact, in many restaurants cabbage has replaced onion.

By some indications, there will be no relief for onion lovers until after January 15, when crops in Nashik, India’s largest onion producing centre, are expected to be harvested.

Stocks being stolen

With the price of onion hitting the roof, it has become a precious commodity for thieves, too. Earlier this week, nearly 350 kg of small onions were stolen from a farmer in Perambalur’s Koothanur village. The small onions, used mostly in preparing sambhar, were worth a whopping ₹42,000.

“My kids love onions but at the present price, it is impossible to buy,” said J Shakila, a resident of Velachery.

In the wholesale Koyambedu vegetable market, the onion price (Nashik variety) has touched a record ₹160 a kg, P Sugumar, Treasurer, Koyambedu Vegetable, Fruit and Flower Merchants Welfare Association, told BusinessLine.

Koyambedu supply down to a trickle

Koyambedu gets nearly 50 per cent of its onion supply from Nashik in Maharashtra (best quality); 30 per cent from Bellary in Karnataka (second-best) and 20 per cent from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Supply from both Nashik and Bellary has dropped by 90-95 per cent. On a normal day, nearly 100 trucks with onions arrive at the Koyambedu market from these locations, he said.

“We expect the situation to normalise only after January 15 unless the government acts swiftly and takes action to arrest the price-increase by importing onion in huge quantities,” he said.

Sugumar said onion has been imported from Egypt but is yet to reach the Koyambedu market.

With no signs of improvement in the supply of onion, Shakila’s two sons may have to wait till Pongal (January 15) to enjoy their onion again.

Published on December 06, 2019

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