It is raining onions in flood hit Madhya Pradesh, literally.
The state government, which procured excess onions from farmers at the rate of `6 per kg, has now decided to sell them to the poor for `1 per kg.
Farmers in Madhya Pradesh took to onion farming on a large scale last year because of its high price but the bumper crop this year meant no buyers in open market, forcing the state government to procure the excess crop.
It became a major problem for the state government, which does not have adequate warehouses to store onions. As a result, onions are getting rotten during rains across the state.
The government estimates that 3.8 lakh quintals of onion have rotten in absence of adequate storage facilities. The government has procured onions for Rs 62.4 crore from the farmers in June.
Officials in Madhya Pradesh State Cooperative Marketing Federation (MARKFED), the nodal body for procurement of onions, said till now the state government has been able to sell just 1 lakh quintal of the 10.4 lakh quintals of onions.
Following the procurement, the state government has been struggling to store and sale of such a huge quantity of onions at a time over 30 of state’s 51 districts have witnessed excess rain and floods.
The state government first floated tender for selling onion, but the response was just 60 paisa per kg. In the retendering, the response didn’t improve much. The state government got a price between 60 paisa to `1.5.
Then the government decided to auction onions at the district-level. At a rate of 4 per kg, authorities were able to sell nearly 22,000 quintals. The auction rates were then again lower to `2 per kg, which led to sale of over 60,000 quintals of onions.
Now, the state government has decided to distribute remaining free of cost among poor families with `1 to be charged for transportation. It would mean loss of about `100 crore.
BM Sharma, managing director of MARKFED, said due to lack of storage facilities and excess rains and floods, 3.8 lakh quintals of onions has rotted.
“Over 5 lakh quintals of onion are still lying in warehouses. Three days ago, the state government has decided to sell onion to people under BPL category through the network of fair-price shops at the rate of `1 per kg,” he said.
On what led to such a huge wastage of onions, Sharma said it was primarily due to two main factors.
“We don’t have proper storage facilities for onions, which require a rack or stepped type storage for proper ventilation. Grain warehouses are not suitable for onion storage. Second, the state witnessed excess rain in large parts, which added moisture to the air and precipitated the rotting of the onions,” said Sharma.
He said: “Learning from this experience, the state government has decided to create a storage facility for 5 lakh quintals of onions in the state.”
Kallu Kurmi, a resident of Newada village in Sagar district, said he went to Sagar mandi with onions but his journey of about 50 km proved futile as nobody bought his onion and he had to bear the transportation cost.
Seeing spiraling price of onion in 2015, farmers in Madhya Pradesh went for a large scale sowing of onion seeds but they hardly expected its outcome - a huge quantity of produce leading to the price crashing like anything.
Former director agriculture GS Kaushal blamed the government for the situation.
“The state government was already aware of large scale sowing of onion. By the time onion grew, the government could have made arrangements to store them. Ironically, 90% of our public representatives claim to be farmers but they hardly do anything to alleviate the sufferings of farmers,” said Kaushal.
Not only the onion fiasco provided enough ammunition to the opposition to fire salvos against the BJP-led government but also forced the government to take drastic disposal steps such as mandatory purchase of 50 kg of onions by the government employees. The latest in this is 25 kg onion for each poor family through the public distribution system.