Onions are widely used in kitchens across India. In fact, it can be a bit challenging to find Indian recipes that don’t use onions. Apart from culinary purposes, onions also have medicinal value. But have you ever wondered how the humble onion reaches your plate, every day, throughout the year? We spoke to Navdeep Vyas, AVP, Operations at Bijak to get a better understanding of the onion agri value chain in India.
India is the second-largest producer of onions in the world, after China. There is a huge demand for onions within India. Apart from domestic consumption, there is also a huge export demand for this crop. The onion value chain comprises mainly farmers, suppliers, commission agents, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers. Since many big players are registered users of the Bijak app, Navdeep has the pleasure of observing the intricacies of the onion agri value chain.
“It is not as simple as farm to fork. There are many people involved at every step of the process, and there are few distinct stages, each of which adds to the value of the product that reaches your plate.”
Stage 1: Onion Cultivation
“The two seasons for onion production are kharif and rabi. Kharif onions are usually planted between July to August and harvested between October to December, whereas rabi onions are planted between December to January and harvested between March to April. When farmers plant their onions, they factor in the price of various inputs like seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, labour, etc to their final crop,” says Navdeep. Kharif onions usually contain a little bit of moisture content when they are harvested. They have to be dried for a week or two (maximum up to a month) before they can be transported. Rabi onions, on the other hand, are harvested during the summers and don’t have this issue. Therefore they are always in huge demand.
The top onion-producing states in India are Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka. Maharashtra usually tops the list because of consistent high yields, owing to high soil quality. “Even though India is the second-largest producer of onions in the world, the yield per acre is low when compared to US and China”, says Navdeep. Maharashtra’s high yields and superior quality onions are what make it an evergreen winner.
Stage 2: Inventory
After onion cultivation, comes the inventory stage. This involves harvesting the crops and transporting them to storage. This is an expense in itself. However, storage poses an added expenditure for a particular reason.
“Most storage facilities can hold between one to three lakh metric tons of produce and the storage fee begins at ₹7 per kg. However, most of these facilities are not up to the mark when it comes to preventing spoilage. Therefore Indian farmers expect 15% wastage at the storage level. This too gets added to the cost.”
Storage is usually filled by April and the commodity is readied for sale towards the end of April. This is when things move to the third stage. And this is where Bijak steps in.
Stage 3: Marketing
“Once storage opens for trade, the onions are sorted into bags and transported to nearby mandis for auction. Each of these processes are labor-intensive. For example, onions are usually sorted and graded by labourers within the farms and make-shift facilities. If machine sorting is used, then they have to be sent to packing and grading centres that have such machinery. Then comes packaging. Onions are packed into 50 kg bags after sorting. Nylon mesh bags and jute bags are often used for packaging. Jute wicks away the moisture and is ideal for transporting onions over longer distances. They also cost more than nylon mesh bags, so once again this becomes a business decision,” says Navdeep.
Stage 4: Trade
Even though Maharashtra is the biggest producer of onions, the biggest consumers are the South Indian states of Telengana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. Therefore there is a constant flow of commodities towards the mandis in these states.
After the onions reach the mandi, trade begins in earnest. “Each mandi has a particular onion consumption rate,” says Navdeep. “For example, a truck carries between 25 to 30 tons of onions. Now if we take the case of Malakpet Market of Hyderabad, its consumption is 60 to 80 trucks per day. When the number of trucks arriving are lower than this, the price of onion increases and vice versa. Similarly, each mandi has a minimum bidding rate set by its committee. Onions are usually auctioned off based on these bidding rates. Then let’s factor in the commission percentage charged by commission agents, bilti paid to suppliers, and other expenses like auction set-up, etc. Similarly, once the onions are auctioned off, you can expect the final buyer to add his profit margin to the final produce as well.”
This is the onion agri value chain in a nutshell. Every single crucial process adds to the cost of onions so that by the time the farmer’s crop which cost around ₹4-6 per kg reaches you, it may carry a price tag in double digits. Next time you look at an onion sitting innocently in the kitchen, we hope you take a moment to appreciate the long journey it’s taken to reach your plate. We hope you enjoyed this article. Tell us your favourite takeaway in the comment section below. Also, stay tuned for more articles from Bijak experts in the future.
Bijak is India’s most trusted agri-trading app. It has a growing network of Farmers, Buyers, (commission agents) and Suppliers and oversees trade in 150 plus commodities. You can download the app from Google Playstore and Apple App Store. Like and share this article with your friends and subscribe to the Bijak blog to get the latest updates.