Chattogram port released more than 2,500 tonnes of imported onions, recently arrived in the country by sea since India banned export of the key cooking staple. However, both the wholesale and retail markets of the bulb apparently show no impact of onion imports from India's alternative sources, intended to ease the supply crunch.
Contrarily, wholesale and retail prices of the cooking staple surged by Tk10-15 per kg last week.
Though supplies of the cooking ingredient increased, consumer rights activists alleged that traders are still destabilizing the market by syndication. They demanded close market monitoring and stringent action to combat illogical price hike.
Despite the influx of imported onions into Dhaka and Chattogram wholesale markets, they are still quite rare in kitchen markets. Locally grown onions were found dominating the market.
Traders said they are selling imported onions at Tk90-100 per kg, while the rate of locally grown onions also hovers around the same price.
"Customers are opting for local onions as the prices of both varieties are nearly the same. I have also stopped selling the imported ones," said Md Sumon, a grocer in Dhaka's Dilu Road area.
Shyambazar is the largest onion wholesale market in the capital. Importers and wholesalers at the market claim to have imported onions in stocks, but the market is too volatile to chip in with consignments.
"The Indian ban has created a crisis in our supply chain. It might take a few more months for the situation to normalize," Shyambazar onion importer Haji Md Majed told The Business Standard.
In the wholesale market, both local and imported onions were selling at Tk75-80 per kg Sunday.
Onion prices spiked to Tk100-120 per kg in local markets following neighbouring India's export ban on the bulb on September 14. The prices dropped to Tk65-80 after fifteen days, and after the brief pause, climbed to Tk100 per kg again.
Deputy Director of the Chattogram Port Plant Quarantine Centre, Dr Mohammad Asaduzzaman Bulbul, told The Business Standard that they had released 2,585 tonnes of the bulb since India's export ban.
He said the centre has thus far approved 377 import permissions to bring in more than 1.71 lakh tonnes of the cooking essential by sea.
Meantime, Plant Quarantine Wing to the Department of Agricultural Extension has given the green light to 1,218 businesses to bring in more than 7.77 lakh tonnes of the vegetable through all land and seaports of the country.
Mohammad Idris, general secretary of Chattogram's Khatunganj Hamidullah Market Traders Association, claimed, "Despite the imports, there is still a supply crisis, which keeps pushing up the prices."
At Khatunganj wholesale market, local onions were at Tk80 per kg, while Burmese and Pakistani varieties were at Tk80 and Tk65-67 per kg respectively.
Retail prices of the cooking ingredient in the port city was at Tk85-90 a week ago, and it then surged up to Tk100 per kg.
"Onion stocks in the wholesale markets are lower than normal levels. I do not see any signs of the market calming down anytime soon," said Manik Chandra Das, an onion retailer in the port city.
Ishrat Jahan, proprietor of Chattogram-based Tiffin Tiffin catering service, said, "We cannot think of running our kitchen without onion, for even a single day. The hikes put us in trouble as we had to keep food prices unchanged, while onion prices more than tripled."
Vice-President of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), SM Najer Hossain said the market shows no sign of stabilizing despite the boost in supply. He pointed a finger at some unscrupulous traders for market syndication.
Najer Hossain also claimed that market monitoring has almost fizzled out due to the traders' lobbying and pressure.
According to the Commerce Ministry, Bangladesh consumes 25 lakh tonnes of onions per year. Local production meets 65-70% of the demand, while the rest is imported. India alone meets 95% of Bangladeshi onion imports.
The government implemented numerous measures to reign in soaring onion prices, including a 5% import duty waiver and allowing onion imports on credit for 90 days.