"To protect the interest of farmers, the government should have declared MSP for onion as soon as it was included under the Essential Commodities Act," Lasalgaon Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Chairman Nanasaheb Patil told reporters here over the weekend.
He pointed out that onion cannot be brought under the Act as this law prohibits storage of any commodity. The vegetable does not qualify to be under the ECA since onion is a commodity that has to be stored for off-season sales and there is no harvest during March through September.
"If onion storage is restricted, it will be very difficult to supply the commodity during the seven months of off-season, resulting in soaring prices," Patil said.
Both in terms of area and yield, Maharashtra is the largest onion producing state followed by Karnataka.
Under the Act, the Centre should also provide concessions on rail freight, he said.
However, the government has not declared any such concessions and instead increased the rail freight by 6 per cent, Patil maintained.
Further, Patil said, as per the Act the government can procure the commodity, if necessary, at any cost from farmers, which will hurt them as they are hardly making any profit.
"The farmers' profitability is already hit due to uncertain weather conditions and higher input costs like fertiliser, weedicides, fungicides, plant nutrients among others. So, if the government asks for onion supply at any cost, how will we manage" onion grower BS Jadhav asked.
If the government does not take any action, he said, farmers will be forced to stop growing onions.
Meanwhile, scrapping of APMCs is also a cause of worry for farmers as it will push them to sell their produce directly to consumers or any market they want without being tied down to the traditional middlemen at the designated farm markets.
"We also want to support it. However, the government should set up an alternative process for distribution. Moreover, onions supplied to APMCs are in bulk and we will not be able to take such huge quantity to district markets and sell directly. It is not practical. Scrapping the APMCs will create a mess," said another onion grower Sachin Pardeshi.
Besides, APMCs also keep records and set benchmark prices, he added.
Onion trader Sandeep Gaikwad also picked holes in the government policy of fixing the minimum export price (MEP) for the produce, saying this is not justified as exports generate huge foreign exchange and have gone up 300 per cent since the last decade.
He pointed out that onion prices have no role in inflation as the bulb's weightage in food inflation is paltry 0.18 per cent.