The shortage is to the extent of 40-45%, officials at the National Horticulture Research and Development Foundation (NHRDF) said.
Onion farmers in Maharashtra are facing a severe shortage of summer onion seeds. With the monsoons in full swing, sowing has picked up pace and farmers are being forced to purchase seeds at double prices due to the shortage.
Packets of onion seed that were priced at Rs 1,500 per kg same time last year are now being sold at Rs 3,000-3,500 per kg, senior officials of the state agricultural department said. The shortage is to the extent of 40-45%, officials at the National Horticulture Research and Development Foundation (NHRDF) said.
For the first time, farmers ended up crowding NHRDF centres in Nashik to purchase seeds, and the help of the police had to be sought to prevent crowding, local technical officers at the NHRDF said. The NHRDF also put a cap on the sale of seeds at 2 kg.
PK Gupta, acting director of the NHRDF, told FE that farmers had ended up selling onion seeds during November-December at Rs 100-120 per kg when prices were high due to short supply. They were uncertain of getting a good price later and therefore offloaded their stocks. They also planted less onion, he said. Moreover, due to the lockdown, technical officers could not reach out to the field to ensure adequate supply of seeds for this season, Gupta said.
According to the data received by the NHRDF, around 35,000 hectare come under summer onion cultivation and 40% of this crop has been destroyed due to heavy rains. Gupta said when he had noticed the shortage, he alerted the Union agriculture secretary, and as a result the government issued a notification banning export of onion seeds from February. The summer onion crop has a shelf life of six months and is stored by farmers in anticipation of better prices.
BP Rayate, technical officer at the NHRDF, attributed the seed shortage to unseasonal rains last year. “The seed production programme for the summer crop is usually undertaken in November or October. Last year, extended monsoons damaged nurseries. Moreover, farmers who usually store seeds for the next season were forced to go in for re-sowing operations due to this rain. More importantly, onion prices were very high during October and November last year and farmers ended up selling their stocks since they were getting good prices,” he said.
“Private companies account for 30-35% of the seed availability while farmers account for the remaining 70% seed supply. Of the organised sector, NHRDF accounts for 80% of the supply”, Rayate said.
Around 12,000 tonne of onion seeds are required every year for sowing operations. Of this, the rabi crop accounts for 7,200 tonne and the remaining 4,800 tonne is used for the kharif crop, according to NHRDF estimates.
Seed manufacturers said onion prices were Rs 70-100 per kg in November-December last and farmers planted less since prices were high. Rains during March and April this year also affected nurseries and 50% of the crop was damaged, Prabhakar Sindhe of Panchganga Seeds said.
Bharat Dighole, president of the Maharashtra Rajya Kanda Utpadak Shetkari Sanghatana, urged the government to stop export of onion seeds. According to him, seed companies export onion seeds to nearly 20 countries every year, and despite the shortage this kharif season, they have decided to continue export.