By Laxman Kafle
Kathmandu, Sept. 20: Nepal has been spending billions of rupees to import onions as the country is heavily dependent on imported onions. Most of the onions are imported from India whereas only nominal quantity of onion in Nepali market comes from China. Thus, the price of onion in the local market depends on its price in the Indian market.
According to the statistics of the Department of Customs, the country imported 106,834 tonnes of onion worth Rs. 4.21 billion in the fiscal year 2019/20. The import of onion decreased in the last fiscal year compared to the previous fiscal year 2018/19 year due to the lockdown caused by COVID-19 pandemic.
About 178,500 tonnes of onion worth Rs. 5.62 billion was imported in fiscal year 2018/19 and 319,500 tonnes of onion worth Rs. 4.84 billion was imported in the fiscal year 2017/18.
In the first month of the current fiscal year 2020/21, around 8,010 tonnes of onion worth Rs. 295 million has been imported to the country.
In terms of quantity, the import of onion has declined over the years due to steady increase in local production, said Basu Dev Kaphle, chief of National Centre of Potatoes, Vegetable and Spice Crops Development under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.
About 300,000 tonnes onion produced in Nepal
The local production of onion has been increasing over the last three years. Around 300,000 tonnes of onion was produced in 20,900 hectares of land in the last fiscal year. Around 291,538 tonnes of onion was produced in the previous fiscal year 2018/19 and 239,000 tonnes from 19,828 hectares of land in the fiscal year 2017/18.
“Nepal holds good potential for onion production. However, the country is spending billions of rupees for onion import due to low production against growing demand caused by changing food habit of the people,” he said.
According to him, launching onion-focussed programme is a must with the coordination among three levels of governments to substitute onion import and make the country self-reliant in onion and other vegetables.
The federal government has allocated Rs. 10 million for commercial production of onion in the current fiscal year.
“We provide around Rs. 1 million each to 10 local levels of 10 different districts,” he said.
Farmers of few districts including Bara, Parsa, Rautahat, Saptari and Siraha are growing onion commercially.
The government had launched onion mission programmes in different districts of Teari region by 2014/15 targeting to increase its production. But it could not be fruitful as per its objective to produce onion commercially.
However, it helped to increase production and encourage farmers to produce onion at least to meet their household consumption.
Bharat Upreti, onion wholesaler of Kalimati Vegetable Market, said that local production of onion covers below 5 per cent of the total market supply of onion in the country and remaining demand is covered through imports.
“Some of the local onion is consumed in the households of farmers and some is supplied to the local market,” he said.
The country will depend on foreign country for onion until and unless production is increased by encouraging farmers towards commercial production of onion, he said. The import of onion in terms of quantity depends on its price as the consumption of onion will decrease if its price increases and the demand will go up if its price falls.
“Price of onion in the local market is determined by its price in India. At present, consumers are forced to pay a high price for onion after the Indian government banned the export of onion,” he said.
The Rising Nepal