Onions are an important ingredient that is used in most South Asian dishes and their price is a very delicate issue. In countries like India and Bangladesh, shortages can start a nationwide clamor that leads to political pressure. As the rise of the onion crisis in Bangladesh in November, coupled with import delays and rising prices up to six times, the Government announced that it is transporting onions by air to meet demand.
This woman with her 45 days old child expressed happiness after buying 1 kg onion in low price from government distribution point in #Bangladesh. This days onion price increased. 1 kg onion is being sold on more than 3 us dollar, generally price is half of 1 dollar. pic.twitter.com/ww9hTj1HsK
– Ershad Khan (@ershadkhandu) November 17, 2019
This woman with her 45-day-old baby expressed her happiness after buying a kilo of onion at a low price at a government distribution point in Bangladesh. The price of onion increased these days. A kilo of onion is sold in more than three dollars, the price is usually half a dollar.
How did this come about?
Bangladesh produced more than 2.33 million metric tons of onions between July 2018 and June 2019. However, the market demand is 3.6 million metric tons. The country imports onion to cover this shortage of its neighboring India, which produces almost a quarter of the world's onions.
In September 2019, India banned onion exports due to reduced domestic production due to excessive rainfall and increased local demand. Local experts described this as an instinctive response that does not solve the problem but affects farmers.
However, this had a huge impact on Bangladesh, which also had low domestic production this year. As India stopped exporting, Bangladesh looked elsewhere for its onion import. Initially, traders did not seek imports in large margins, with the idea that India would lift the ban soon. Instead, some merchants monopolized onions, which created an artificial crisis.
In September, the price of onion was between 45 and 50 Bangladeshi takas (between 0.50 and 0.60 US dollars) per kilo. It reached between 110 and 120 Bangladeshi Takas (US $ 1.30 and 1.40) in October, and November reached 250 Bangladeshi Takas (US $ 3).
At the capital’s Karwan Bazar wholesale market, traders were selling a sack of five kg local onion for Tk950 to Tk1,000. On the other hand, five kg imported onion were selling between Tk800 and Tk900 and five kg onion from Turkey were selling at Tk750 to Tk800.#Bangladesh pic.twitter.com/jULau4l9D7
– sourav saha (@ souravs95685663) November 16, 2019
In the Bazar Karwan wholesale market in the capital, merchants sold a five-kilo bag of local onion between 950 and 1000 Bangladeshi takas (just under US $ 12). On the other hand, five kilos of imported onion were sold between 800 and 900 Bangladeshi takas (between US $ 9 and 10) and five kilos of turkey onion were sold in 750 to 800 Bangladeshi takas (just under US $ 9).
During a visit to India the first week of October, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister joked about the onion ban with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said he had to take the onion from his menu. Despite repeated requests from Bangladesh, India did not withdraw the ban and there are indications that the ban could last for more months.
Onion is a perishable item and shipments from distant countries tend to break down along the way. So India remains the most viable option for import. Now, Bangladesh is obliged to buy onion from other nations, such as China and Egypt, and they are importing by air from Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan to address the immediate crisis.
■ India bans onion exports as floods affect crops in #Maharashtra #Karnataka #Telangana & push prices over Rs 100 / kg.
■ Neighborhood countries like #Bangladesh face the crunch.
■ #Pakistan steps in. To export 300 tons of onions to BD after 15 years of hiatus.
– Rajeev Sharma (@kishkindha) November 16, 2019
Onion diplomacy ??
■ India prohibits onion exports as floods affect crops in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and the price rises above one hundred Indian rupees per kilo (US $ 1.40).
■ Neighboring countries such as Bangladesh face shortages.
■ Pakistan is willing to export 300 tons of onion to Bangladesh after 15 years of interruption.
Onion represented only a small portion of the monthly food expenditure in Bangladeshi households. However, the price increase has affected the lower middle class and poor households. The Government launched onion sales centers at subsidized prices to stabilize the market, and many people went to the outlets.
People gather to buy onion as subsidize price in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The price of onion has hit a record high with USD $ 3 per Kilogram, ten times higher than its price seven months ago.#onion #pricehike #bangladesh?? #agriculture #confrontation #gathering #economy pic.twitter.com/tj8Jq8H5LK
– zakir hossain chowdhury (@auni_auniket) November 17, 2019
People gather to buy onions at a subsidized price in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The price of onion has reached an unprecedented level, at three dollars per kilo, ten times higher than seven months ago. Increase in onion prices in Bangladesh.
Many blamed merchants for creating an artificial crisis. Different government agencies fined and arrested more than 2000 merchants since October for hoarding onion or selling it at a higher price than the market.
খাতুনগঞ্জে আড়ত থেকে বের হচ্ছে পঁচা পেঁয়াজ!
দাম আরও বাড়বে সে আশায় নিজেদের গুদামে মজুদ করে রাখা পেঁয়াজে পচন ধরেছে !!
কথায় আছে না, অতি লোভে তাঁতি নষ্ট! pic.twitter.com/KuQkryvIOR
– sadia sultana (@ sultana8800) November 16, 2019
Rotten onions discovered in a Khatunganj silo. Onions shelled to sell after an increase in the price rot. If you are so ambitious, you risk losing everything.
On social media, people asked others to boycott the onion to resist hoarders.
পেঁয়াজ না খেলে কি আপনি মরে যাবেন?
যদি তাই না হয়, আসুন একযোগে পেঁয়াজ বর্জন করে ব্যবসায়ী সিন্ডিকেটের বিষদাঁত ভেঙে দেই! pic.twitter.com/FrGhmehW6u
– S.H. SagoR (@ Shahada12873780) November 17, 2019
Will you die if you don't eat onion? If that is not true, let's boycott onions and teach these unions a lesson.
পেঁয়াজ সিন্ডিকেট ভাঙ্গতে আপনিই যথেষ্টঃ
১ ৷ আগামী ১৯/১১/২০১৯ থেকে ২৯/১১/২০১৯ এই ১০ দিন কেউ পেঁয়াজ কিনব না।
২। আশ-পাশের পরিবার প্রতিবেশীকে এই তথ্যটা জানিয়ে পেঁয়াজ না কেনার জন্য উদ্বুদ্ধ করুন।
৩। ১০ দিন পেঁয়াজ কেনা বন্ধ, দৃঢ় মনোবলে অঙ্গিকারাবদ্ধ হোন। pic.twitter.com/JEYHNmS7kh
– BURHAN UDDIN (@ BURHANU96887202) November 16, 2019
You just have to break this merchants union. We will not buy onions between November 19, 2019 and November 29, 2019. Tell your family and neighbors not to buy onion. Ten days without onion. You can.
To address the crisis, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the media that she is cooking without onion and that the result is “tasty and delicious.” People are publishing recipes online that can be prepared without onion.
পেঁয়াজ ছাড়া রান্না / cooking without onion / peyaj sara ranna / how to cook without onion https://t.co/zeiHKwA07i pic.twitter.com/J1Apn6Dp0q
– refreshrecipes (@refreshrecipes) November 19, 2019
Cooking without onion / How to cook without onion
Ireen Sultana writes on Facebook:
পেঁয়াজ বস্ত্রের মত আবশ্যক না। মৌলিক অধিকার না। (..) বাঙালির বহু ব্যঞ্জন এমনিতেই পেঁয়াজ ছাড়া হয়। আর যেসবে লাগে তা পরিমাণে কম দিয়েও রাঁধা যায়। অথবা পেঁয়াজ না দিয়েও উপাদেয় করা যায়।
আপনার যদি আজকাল ৫ কেজির জায়গায় আড়াই কেজিতে চলে যায় তো বুঝবেন এটাই আসল পরিমাণ। এতদিন আপনি পেঁয়াজ বিলাসি ছিলেন।
Onion is not an absolute necessity like clothes. It is not a basic right. (..) A lot of Bengali food is prepared without onion or a smaller amount can be used. You can even make tasty food without onion.
If your monthly consumption of onion of five kilos has fallen by half because of the crisis, then you know that this is the right demand. You were using excess onion until now.
For their part, some netizens reacted to the onion crisis with innovative and funny memes, like this one:
Despite online jokes, the seriousness of the matter should not be overlooked as political parties are using the crisis as a starting point. The National Party of Bangladesh (BNP), the largest opposition party, blamed the government for the increase and called for a protest rally nationwide. There was also a heated debate in Parliament about it.