Maharashtra farmers seek removal of ban on onion export

Onion prices at Lasalgaon doubled between March and September from Rs 1,500 per quintal to Rs 3,000 per quintal.Onion prices at Lasalgaon doubled between March and September from Rs 1,500 per quintal to Rs 3,000 per quintal.

A day after the Centre banned exports of onions to contain a spike in domestic prices, farmers in the largest agriculture producing state of Maharashtra, held agitations, calling the move “arbitrary” and seeking the removal of the restriction. Before the move, prices of the kitchen bulb in Lasalgaon, the country’s biggest onion market in Maharashtra, had doubled to Rs 3,000 per quintal since March.

Farmers from Lasalgaon, Nasik, Ahmednagar, Akola, Solapur and Pabhani, among others, blocked state highways.

They complained that the sudden decision of the government would drag down their returns just after they started to get better prices for their produce.

The surge in prices, which forced the centre to ban onion exports, was caused by the massive destruction of crops due to moisture during heavy monsoon downpours. Heavy rains washed away the crop in states, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

NCP President Sharad Pawar said he has discussed the issue with commerce minister Piyush Goyal and urged him to rethink it. “The ban jeopardizes India’s export share in the onion markets of Gulf countries, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh,” Pawar said in a tweet, adding that it could allow other countries, such as Pakistan, to displace India.

Noted agricultural economist Ashok Gulati said: “Onion export ban reflects the typical urban consumer bias in the minds of our bureaucrats and policymakers. This is an anti-farmer policy. How a prime minister that wants to double farmers income agree to such a policy? When onion prices collapse to Rs 5/kg, no one comes to support. But when prices go to Rs 30/kg, all hell breaks loose to pull the prices down. The August price inflation for onion is minus 4% and the country is putting export ban!! If the crop is damaged due to floods, the Centre should start importing.”

Anil Ghanwat, president, Shetkari Sanghatana said that the government’s decision is irrational. “Nothing happened all these months when onion prices were Rs 1,500 per quintal and the day prices at Lasalgaon touched Rs 3,000 per quintal, a ban was put in place. Such arbitrary decisions will surely bring down the government,” Ghanwat warned adding that farmer protests in the state will continue until the government rolls back the ban.

“Containers have been stopped at JNPT port and hundreds of trucks have been stopped at the Bangladesh border. This has hit onion prices which have dropped to Rs 2,000 per quintal within a day which means losses for farmers again,” he pointed out. According to onion traders in Nashik, around 450 containers are at JNPT port.

All India Kisan Sabha General Secretary Ajit Navale said the ban not only deceives onion growers from Maharashtra but across the country. “Farmers are angry with this decision and have decided to protest by coming out on roads,” he warned, alleging that the decision was taken because of the upcoming Bihar elections as high onion price are undesirable for any government seeking re-election.

Onion prices at Lasalgaon doubled between March and September from Rs 1,500 per quintal to Rs 3,000 per quintal. In the retail market, the price of onions rose from Rs 20/kg in June-July to Rs 35-40/kg. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat are major onion producing states.

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