It is difficult to keep track of how many times the price of onions has fluctuated in the last two months. There is no similarity between the morning price and the afternoon price.
The price of onions has spiraled so much that even government agencies are struggling to assess the gap between demand and supply.
But it is not onions alone that have been making people cry, the prices of most other daily essential commodities such as lentils, edible oil, ginger, garlic and vegetables surged too.
The price of vegetables has been high for quite some time, while the prices of other essentials have also gone up in the last 15 days.
While talking to this correspondent, retail and wholesalers said the price of onions gradually came down to Tk210-Tk200 from Tk-250-Tk260 per kg in the last one week. In the span of a day, it increased again to Tk240-Tk250.
Nevertheless, onions imported from China, Myanmar, Egypt, and Turkey are selling for Tk150-Tk180 per kg in retail markets.
Murikata, a local variety of onion, which came to the market some days ago, is not available in adequate quantities now. But, Pata onion, another local variety, is selling for Tk130-Tk150 per kg.
Rabeya Sultana, who came to buy onions at a grocery shop at Wapda Road in Rampura on Monday, said, "I bought a kilogram of onions for Tk210 even a day before, but today the price is Tk240." How did the price go up by Tk30 overnight? She questioned.
Slightly rotten onions are selling for a comparatively low price in Karwan Bazar. Shopper Altaf Hossain said, "I have come here to buy onions at low price. But the price is still Tk220."
When asked about the sudden price hike, a wholesaler said the supply of onions has fallen greatly as local varieties have almost gone out of stock in the market.
Importers are also not importing onions for fear of harassment as customs intelligences have kept a close eye on many of them, and are trying to collect information on price manipulation.
Therefore, businesspeople are expecting the price of onions to fall immediately. If not, they fear they might face problems.
Mohammad Mazed, secretary of Shyambazar Onion Samity, told The Business Standard, "We want the onion crisis go fast. We cannot do business peacefully because of it. So much pressure is coming on us from different levels of the government."
"The country is now facing a serious onion crisis. This problem will not be resolved until local onions and imported ones hit the market," he said.
Another seller said they have hardly any stock of local varieties of onions. Murikata onions came to the market for only three days ago.
While visiting different wholesale shops at Karwan Bazar, this correspondent saw a very poor supply of local onions. Similarly, Egyptian and Turkish onions were selling at a few shops but the stock was low.
Aratdar (wholesaler) Ashraf at Karwan Bazar told The Business Standard, "Only a single onion-laden truck came this morning with 100 sacks of onion, while usually there are 3 or 4 trucks."
Onions imported by air seem to have failed in reining in the skyrocketing price of the key cooking ingredient. In the last few days, around 400 tonnes of onion came to the country by air.
Besides, several onion consignments of S Alam Group, City Group and Meghna Group are expected to reach within a week.
On September 29, the Indian government banned the export of onion with immediate effect until further order in order to improve their domestic availability of onions.
During that time, traders hiked onion prices from Tk50-Tk55 to Tk120-Tk130 in spite of there being an adequate supply in the market.
In the last two months, onion prices did not come down. Instead they jumped to Tk250 for the second time.
Md Mofizul Islam, chairperson of Bangladesh Competition Commission, said, "The onion crisis surfaced after India imposed a ban on its export. But it was not supposed to affect Bangladesh immediately as businessmen had at least two lakh tonnes in stock. Then, they manipulated onion prices. And we are now investigating it."
But now the onion crisis has become genuine, he added.
Seeking anonymity, an official who regularly monitors the market, said, "We need 6,000 tonnes of onions on average every day. But now only 1,000-1,500 tonnes are coming in the market a day. Hence, at present it is difficult to control the market."
Last Sunday, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said they could import only 25,000 tonnes a day during this time of the year against the demand for one lakh tonnes. The crisis has been created because of this import shortfall.
According to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh's market analysis, last year during this time, local and imported onion were sold at Tk25-Tk30 per kg. But now the prices have increased by 430 percent.
Prices of most daily essentials also on the rise
The price volatility of onions have also impacted that of other commodities. Different varieties of rice saw a hike of Tk5-Tk7 per kg at different retail markets of Dhaka.
However, various government agencies claimed there is no shortage of rice and paddy in the country.
While visiting different wholesale markets, The Business Standard found that the price of a 50kg bag of miniket rice increased from Tk250-Tk300 to Tk2,350-Tk,2400. In retail markets, it was selling at Tk48-Tk55 per kilogram.
Coarse varieties of rice were selling between Tk40 and Tk42 per kg at retail markets while it was Tk32-Tk35 in wholesale markets.
According to the TCB, in the last one month, prices of fine quality of rice rose by seven percent, medium quality by 4.4 percent, and course quality by 10.29 percent.
When asked about the hike in rice prices, Shahidur Rahman Patwary, vice-president of Bangladesh Auto Major and Husking Rice Mill Owners' Association, said, "The government fixed prices of rice and paddy in Aman season. That is why, prices of paddy increased a bit in the market. But it did not increase much in front of the mill gate."
The government has recently announced that it will procure 6 lakh tonnes of Aman paddy at Tk26 per kg, 3.5 lakh tonnes of parboiled rice at Tk36 per kg.
Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder told The Business Standard, "When prices of rice were low, people began to buy fine rice. That is why, prices of this quality rose a bit. There is no logic behind the hike in other varieties as the country witnessed a bumper production in the last Boro season. We are expecting excellent output this season as well."
There is no shortage of rice as of now, he added.
According to the food ministry, the government has 11 lakh tonnes of rice and 3.31 tonnes of wheat in stock at present.
Besides, soybean oil price increased by Tk3 per litre and was selling at Tk80-Tk85 per litre. Flour was selling at Tk42 per kg after a rise of Tk6, while the price of local masoor lentils was Tk125-Tk130, up by Tk5.
Prices of ginger and garlic also hiked. Local variety of ginger was selling at Tk200-Tk220 per kg which was Tk180 per kg previously. Salt also witnessed a panic buy following rumours of price hike.
Golam Rahman, president of Consumers' Association of Bangladesh, said, "Prices of other essentials also hiked besides onion. All of a sudden, people's expenditure for food has increased. To make adjustments, the people have had to reduce other expenses because it is not possible for common people to increase their incomes within a short time."