Maharashtra’s farmers have set out on a 200-kilometre march from Nashik to Mumbai to demand the stabilisation of onion prices, among other things. The development comes only weeks after the prices of onions in Lasalgaon, India’s largest wholesale market for onions located in Maharashtra’s Nashik district, crashed to an all-time low of Re 1 to Rs 2 per kilogram.
Seeking relief from dropping prices, a group of farmers from Ahmednagar in Maharashtra had sent onions by post to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and demanded the lifting of the ban on onion exports. There have also been reports of farmers destroying their crops.
Leading up to the protest
Till the first week of February onions were going for about Rs 1,200 per quintal (100 kg). According to a farmer from Nashik, Karbhari Keda Jadhav, prices started dropping in the second week, when they came below Rs 1,000 per quintal. By the third week, the prices had further come down to Rs 700-800 per quintal. “But we were selling our stocks as we were at least able to recover our costs,” said Jadhav.
On February 27, prices slid to Rs 200-300 per quintal, and farmers forced the suspension of trading at Lasalgaon.
While they demanded a floor price of Rs 1,000 per quintal, the government intervened by directing the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd (Nafed) to start procuring at Rs 900 per quintal. Thereafter, the state government also announced a subsidy of Rs 300 per quintal.
However, farmers said the low procurement volume and subsidy will not help offset their losses, leave alone make a profit, and began their rally on March 13.
Also read: Maharashtra government gives in to farmers’ demands, will raise subsidy on onions to Rs 600 per quintal
Their demands include a Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Rs 2,000 per quintal. They are also demanding an immediate subsidy of Rs 600 per quintal for the onion that has already been sold at a loss.
Further, they are seeking remunerative prices for crops like cotton, soyabean, tur dal, and green gram, which have seen a slide in prices due to unnatural rains and other natural calamities.
The farmers are also demanding 12 hours of uninterrupted power supply, a waiver of the power bills of agricultural consumers, as also a waiver of loans to low and middle-income farmers and agricultural workers, numbering about 88,000.
A long-pending demand of the farmers has been the extension of the Forest Rights Act of 2006, to them, including ownership of the forest land cultivated by farmers.
In talks held late on March 16, though the state government accepted most of the demands, the farmers are yet to withdraw their protest.
“We will consider withdrawing the march only if they take up our demands in the assembly session today and also tell the collectors to implement the same,” Ashok Dhawale, President of the CPM’s All India Kisan Samiti (AIKS), who is leading the morcha, told Moneycontrol.
The farmers have paused their march and are camping at Idgah ground at Vasind in Shahapur near Thane. The march will resume if orders regarding the implementation of their demands are not issued to District Collectors.
What led to this?
Vartika Singh, Senior Research Analyst at International Food Policy Research Institute, said that last year’s heat wave was responsible for this year’s bumper crop of onions.
“It is not as if onions have suddenly sprouted in larger quantities, but rather that kharif, late kharif, and even rabi crops have all been harvested at about the same time, which has led to this situation,” she added.
Kharif onions are planted between July-August and harvested in October-December, late kharif onions are planted between October-November and harvested in January-March, and rabi, or the winter crop, is planted between December-January and harvested in March-May.
“Kharif onions were sown late due to the heatwave last year. They ripened late this year, along with the late kharif crop,” said Singh.
“Kharif onions are marketed up to February and late-kharif till May-June. Both kharif and late-kharif onions have a high moisture content and cannot be stored for long. The heat this year has reduced the duration of their storage further. Farmers attempting to unload both kharif and late-kharif crops together has led to a glut in the market, and triggered a price crash.”
How may it impact the growth of onions?
Maharashtra is the leading producer of onions, producing about 43 percent of India’s onions. It is followed by Madhya Pradesh at 16 percent, and Karnataka and Gujarat contributing around 9 percent each says a statement by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.
The current crisis is expected to cause another crisis, this time of a dearth in onion production.
Predicting a crunch in onion supply later this year, Singh said, “Onion is a staple in all Indian households throughout the year. Its demand never drops. The weather forecast this year predicts a very bad heat wave. The farmers, owing to the weather conditions and their immediate experience, will not sow onions. This will lead to a crunch.
“Farmers depend on loans and unless they repay the outstanding amount, they do not get fresh loans to invest in the next season. This is another reason why there will be a crunch,” she said, and added, “Production of onions is bound to fall as farmers switch to alternative crops or alternative means of livelihood.”
“We have seen this happen with tomato agriculture in Bihar, with cotton in Maharashtra, and with pulses all over India in the past 10 years. Whenever farmers fail to get suitable prices for their crops, production drops as they move to alternatives,” said Singh.
She, however, added that the extent of the impact is yet to be assessed and will become clearer in the coming months.