As Bangladesh stopped onion imports from India by road and sea around two weeks ago, wholesale prices of the cooking essential edged up by Tk5-8 ahead of Eid when demand goes up centring the festival.
Traders in Chattogram's Khatunganj wholesale market said the government was not issuing new onion import permits to encourage and support local onion farmers.
SM Najer Hossain, vice-president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), appreciated the import suspension. However, he said as there is no accurate and reliable information about total demand and production of onion in the country, the import suspension may put consumers in trouble.
Najer Hossain said self-sufficiency in onion production by raising production capacity would benefit both farmers and consumers.
A number of onion importers at Hili Land port said imports of the cooking ingredient from India have stopped since 29 April through the land port. The import suspension prompted a supply crunch and contributed to the price hike.
Locally grown onion was Tk34-35 per kg in Khatunganj wholesale market on Tuesday. The rate was Tk28-30 at the end of last week, which means the price of the item spiked by Tk5-7 per kg in the last four days.
Different Indian onion varieties were also at Tk30-35 per kg in wholesale on Monday. Prices of imported onions have gone up by Tk5-8 per kg in the last three to four days.
In the meanwhile, some Khatunganj traders brought Burmese onions taking advantage of the Indian onion import suspension. Burmese onions, which have been in the market for the last three to four days, were Tk31-34. The rate was Tk29-32 at the end of last week.
Khatunganj onion trader, Boloy Kumar Podder, said the season for local onions just ended, and farmers still have enough of the produce in stock.
"The government has stopped importing Indian onions now so that local growers get a fair price this time," he added.
Khatunganj Hamidullah Market Traders Association General Secretary, Idris Mia, said onions that are in the market now are what was imported earlier. The market was not likely to become unstable since traders and farmers had plenty of onions in stock.
Nasir Uddin, deputy director of the Chattogram port plant quarantine station, said no onions were imported through the seaport in March-April due to the onset of the domestic onion season. But some of the bulbs that came earlier, have been auctioned.
According to the station, Bangladesh imported more than 1.30 lakh tonnes of onions through the port in September 2020 to February this year.
Trainload of Indian onions arrives in Hili
On Tuesday, 1,608 tons of onions arrived at Bangladesh's Hili land port by train. The trainload came after 12 days since onion imports by road and sea remain suspended.
The onion freight train with 42 wagons reached Hili Railway Station across the India-Bangladesh border at Chapainawabganj's Rahanpur on Tuesday morning.
Hili-based importer, Raihan Traders, brought in the consignment. The importer, Saddam Hosen, said as he had a permit for importing by train, he brought in the onions for Eid.
Hili Railway Station Master Tapan Kumar said the government earned Tk11.92 lakh in rail fare for the import.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension and Trading Corporation of Bangladesh, the country consumes about 22-23 lakh tons of onion a year.
In this fiscal year, Bangladeshi farmers produced about 19 lakh tons of the bulb, while the production in fiscal year 2018-19 was 17.38 lakh tons.
But if 25% of the production is excluded as typical storage waste, the actual production stands at 15 lakh tons. About 2% of the crop is reserved as seed for next year's planting. According to estimates, some 9-10 lakh tons of onions have to be imported every year.
The country used to bring in most of its imported onions from neighbouring India. But Bangladeshi importers have been exploring alternatives to Indian sources for the last two years.
[The Business Standard Dinajpur correspondent contributed to the report.