Abdul Karim Molla, a farmer from Sadarpur Upazila of Faridpur, harvested 16 maunds of premature onions from his eight kathas of land. He sold the onions at Tk100 per kilogramme. If he had waited a bit longer, he could have had two-to-four more maunds of onions.
Nazrul Islam, another farmer from Shoilkupa Upazila of Jhenaidah, cultivated murikata onions on one bigha of land. However, he also harvested the onions when they were premature because of the high price of the crop in the country. A maund of onion was then being sold at Tk5,500-6,500.
"I sold 20 maunds of premature onions for the high prices. If I had waited a few more days, the amount would have been 25-26 maunds," said Nazrul Islam.
Officials from the Department of Agricultural Extension said farmers have started harvesting the premature onions to cash in on the high prices – which will hurt production targets.
Chandi Das Kundu, director of the field visit wing of the Department of Agricultural Extension, said, "The farmers are harvesting murikata onions prematurely. That is why the production target will not be achieved."
Most of the premature onions have been coming from Pabna and Faridpur. The production of murikata onion has declined all over the country, including in Rajshahi and Rangpur.
According to the department, this year, the target was to cultivate onions on two lakh 11 thousand hectares of land. Until January 1, 2020, around one lakh 23 thousand hectares of land were used for onion cultivation. Among them, murikata onions were cultivated on around 62,000 hectares of land. The rest of the land was used to grow kanda onions.
The department says so far, premature onions have been harvested from 4,500 hectares of land. However, the amount does not include the Faridpur and Rangpur harvests. Officials had said the actual amount would be three times greater.
"We do not have the whole picture of the premature onion harvest. We only have information from nine of 64 areas," said Humayun Kabir, additional agricultural officer of the control room of the Department of Agricultural Extension.
The government has been worrying because of the large-scale harvest of premature onions. It is already thinking about importing onions to tackle the demands of the Ramadan market.
Recently, the finance minister said that the government is ready to import around two lakh tonnes of onions. He said one and a half lakh tonnes would be imported by the City Group, Meghna Group, and S Alam Group, and 50,000 tonnes would be imported by the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB).
Agriculture Minister Dr Md Abdur Razzaque said at a recent programme that the government is concerned about the harvesting of premature onions.
To tackle the situation, the Ministry of Agriculture has already started collecting the seeds of a new breed of summertime onions. They will be cultivated after the wintertime onions have been harvested. Authorities concerned hope that cultivating the new breed will solve the crisis.
The government set the target at producing 23 lakh 81 thousand tonnes of onions this year.
Last year, onion production was 23 lakh 30 thousand tonnes. However, as the weight decreased in the different stages from production to preservation, actual production stood at 16 lakh 30 thousand tonnes.
Bangladesh has a demand of 24 lakh tonnes of onions annually.
On September 29, 2019, India suddenly stopped exporting onions to Bangladesh, which destabilised the market as the price soared up to Tk250 per kg.