The price of onion, a common item in Bangladeshi kitchen, witnessed a 557.80 percent year-on-year rise, says state-owned Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB).
According to the TCB data, the price of local onion increased by 542.86 percent while that of imported one by 572.73 in November this year compared to the corresponding period of the last year.
As per the market analysis, the price hike, which stemmed from the ban India slapped on the export of the bulb on September 29, is much higher than the TCB estimation.
The price kept surging despite various steps taken by the government, including conducting mobile court drives against traders who were selling onion at higher price as well as the sale by the TCB at a cheaper price.
It reached as high as Tk 260 per kg at the retail markets on November 16.
The price started falling from November 17 after the Prime Minister on November 16 said that the government took initiatives to import onion through cargo planes to bring down the price along with the locally grown onion started arriving in the market.
However, it started to soar again from November 22 and shot upto Tk 270 on Wednesday.
In the last one month, the price of locally grown onion shot up by 104.55 percent while that of imported one by 72.09 percent, as per the TCB statistics.
The local variety of onion was selling at Tk 220-230 per kg while the imported one at Tk 160-210 on Tuesday. The price was Tk 30-40 and Tk 25-30 respectively during the same period last year.
According to the TCB, local onion was selling at Tk 210-220 while the imported one at Tk 140-200 on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Palash Mahmud, executive director of Conscious Consumers’ Society (CCS), a consumer rights organisation, alleged that a syndicate of traders pocketed around Tk 3,180 crore in the last four months by manipulating the onion market.
He also said the onion price saw at least a 400 percent hike from July to October.
“Farmers used to sell onion at Tk 8-13 per kg during this season but the price has now skyrocketed to over Tk 250,” Palash said.
According to the TCB data, the onion was selling at Tk 80-95 per kg on October 15 while at Tk 90-100 on October 23 and at Tk 120-130 on October 31.
The bulb was selling for Tk 150-170 per kg on November 14 while Tk 200-220 on November 15, Tk 220-230 on November 16, Tk 200-215 on November 18, Tk 170-190 on November 22, Tk 180-200 on November 23, Tk 190-200 on November 24 and for Tk 200-210 on November 25.
However, visiting different kitchen markets in the capital on Thursday, it was found that onion was selling at a much higher price.
The local onion was selling at Tk 240-260 and the imported one at Tk 150-200 at the kitchen market in the city.
Manik Saha, a wholesaler at Shyambazar, said they sold local onion at Tk 170-180 a kg while the Burmese one at Tk 170, Egyptian one at 140 and Chinese variety at Tk 120 on Thursday.
Zillur Rahman, a shopkeeper at Konapara of the city, said he bought onion at Tk 242 per kg from wholesale market on Tuesday. “As I bought onion at a high price, I’m to sell it at a high price, too. Now, I’m selling per kg onion at Tk 260,” he said.
Subra Sinha, a resident of Shanir Akhra, said he bought 1 kg of locally grown good quality onion for Tk 270 from a shop.
Shamsur Rahman, an onion stockist at Shyambazar, told UNB that they were selling old stock of local variety for Tk 200 per kg and new onion for Tk 180-190 while the Burmese variety costs Tk 180-190 a kg.
He also said they had no stock of Egyptian, Chinese and Pakistani varieties of the bulb for lack of supply.
Shamsur also said the onion price will come down by 50 percent within two weeks as locally produced onion and imported ones started to hit the market.
Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) President Ghulam Rahman said there is an annual demand of around 30 lakh tonnes of onion in the country with one-thirds of it requiring to import.
He said a syndicate of importers, stockists, wholesalers and retailers took the advantage of the supply crunch following the India’s ban on the onion export and jacked up the price. “The onion prices soared to Tk 250 per kg at retail market which was Tk 20-25 in January-February this year.”
Ghulam Rahman said had the government taken steps earlier, consumers would not have to suffer.
He, however, expressed the hope that the onion price will come down to Tk 20-40 a kg in December once local onion and imported ones are available in large quantities in the market.
Dr Shahidul Islam, director general of the Directorate of Customs Intelligence and Investigation (CIID), told journalists at his Kakrail office recently that the country imported over 167,806 tonnes of onion from August to November 18 last at a cost of Tk 660 crore.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said the onion price will become stable within the first week of December when imported and local onions hit the market. “Some 12,000 tonnes of imported onion will reach Chattogram port on November 29. The onion will be available in market within the next 10 days. Each kg cost Tk 32 to reach the port. It’ll be sold at maximum Tk 60 per kg. Besides, local onion will hit the market during this time,” he said.
The government has taken an initiative to conduct a training programme for the skills development of some 15 lakh RMG workers, aiming to ensure sustainable development of the sector and facing the challenges ahead.
To provide training to the RMG workers, an eight-member 'Training Conducting Committee', headed by the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) director general, has been formed to find the way to conduct the training program.
The other members of the committee are from the Textile cell of the Commerce Ministry, the Department of Labour, Labour and Employment Ministry, Department of Textile, BEPZA, BGMEA, BKMEA, and deputy director (Compliance and Monitoring Cell) of the EPB.
The committee has been formed recently as per the RMG Training Policy 2019 which will conduct training-related activities and select the training providing institutions. It will determine the process for enlisting garment workers for providing training.
It will send the list to the respective organisations stating the time and particular training programme, for enlisting the particular worker who is continuing his/her job in a garment.
The committee will amend, include and approve the module that will be formulated by the training providing organisation.
It will publish advertisement in print or electronic media about the training programme.
To review the training activities the committee will have to sit at least once in every two months. But the meeting can be held any time.
If necessary, the committee can co-opt any representative from any concerned office or organisation.
Currently some 40 lakh people are working in the RMG sector while there is immense scope to employ more skilled workforce here.
Industry insiders think that to achieve the USD 50 billion export by 2021, there is no other scope other than enhancing skills and competence of workers in the RMG sector.
BGMEA Senior Vice President Faisal Samad said that the existing workforce itself needs retraining for improvement of their efficiency to boost the production capacity for competing in the world market.
Talking about the higher level management side, Faisal Samad, also the Managing Director Surma Garments Ltd, said that the country has a big gap in providing the workforce for the mid-level and senior level management.
"In some cases, we try to fulfil this gap with the foreign nationals," he said.
He said there will be no need of foreigners in the upper management level if general manager level workforce are provided with necessary training.
Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in a study on RMG sector last year showed that around 13 percent of the country's garment factories employed foreign experts in the top level management who remit over USD 500 crore from Bangladesh every year.
In absence of skilled workforce, particularly in merchandising, design and marketing as well as in operation of sophisticated machines, the factory owners hire experts from outside the country to fill the gap.
There is no supply of onions at 33 wholesale markets at different points in the city since Sunday night. Although the government has started importing onions from Egypt, Pakistan and some other countries, the amount is still lower than the local demands.
Authorities concerned have figured out five reasons behind the empty wholesale markets of onions in the district. These are - mobile court panic, not stocking onions in fear of loss due to regular price fluctuations, shortage of old onion stocks in the markets, damage to the local variety of onion during cyclone Bulbul and import of insufficient amount of onions.
Talking to UNB, Md Kabir Khan, manager of Allahar Dan Banijjo Vandar in Sonadanga, said the import of onion from India has been stopped since September 25. Onion traders used to bring some 40 metric tonnes of onions from Benapole and Bhomra ports but they stopped it fearing fine by mobile court for stocking the bulb.
Besides, traders do not stock onions in fear of regular price fluctuations in the markets. Four wholesale markets in Faridpur have run out of onions. Many indigenous onion fields were damaged by cyclone Bulbul, he added.
Shahadat Hossain, manager of Helal Banijjo Vander in Truck Terminal area, said one reason behind the scarcity of onions in Khulna markets is that the supply of indigenous onions from Faridpur’s Nagarkanda, Jhatubdia, Kurepara and Chandhat of have been stopped.
Dinesh Chandra Bari, manager of Bayazid Banijjo Vander, said the onion shortage started since India banned export.
The stock of onion is almost zero at 33 wholesales markets including Taj Trading and Sohail Trading in Kadamtala, Haque Banijjo Vander, Rafi Enterprise, Morolganj Banijjo Vander, Allaher Dan Banijjo Vander in Truck Terminal ofSonadanga, Abu Sufyan Banijjo Vander, Shekhar Shaha Banijjo Vander, Azizul Molla and Laxmi Rani Banijjo Vander in Daulatpur.
Touhid Mollah, a retailer of Daulatpur market, said he collected 55 kg onions on Sunday following the demand of customers. That sold out within two hours. Based on their varieties, onions were sold for between Tk 210 and Tk 230 per kg in the retail markets.
Chief Executive Officer of TCB Khulna region Md Rabiul Morshed said over 5,000 kg onions are being sold in five trucks in the city's Tutapara, Kabarkhana, in front of SP Office, Moylapota, New Market and Khalishpur every day.
Local variety of onion was sold at Tk 240-250 per kg while the imported onion was Tk 230-240, according to the report of the District Market Officer Abdus Salam Tarafadar sent to Khulna Deputy Commissioner's office on November 17.
Amid the skyrocketing prices of onions, the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate (CIID) of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) has appeared in the field to find out the reasons behind the abnormal price hike of onions.
According to NBR data, some 167,000 metric tonnes of onions were imported in the last three months, but the prices still keep soaring.
"That’s why the government has asked the NBR to look into the matter. The CIID with all details of 332 onion importers is now in action," a senior official at the NBR said.
The CIID is investigating the data of imported onions and their supply in the market.
It said 167,806.47 metric tonnes of onions had been imported through Banglabandha, Benapole, Bhomra, Hilli, Sona Masjid, Teknaf, Chattaogram and Dhaka customs houses this year before India imposed ban on onion export to Bangladesh.
"But the onion prices keep surging. To dig out the reason, the CIID questioned 47 importers on November 25 and 26," the senior NBR official said.
He said it has summoned importers who imported over 1,000 tonnes of onions between August 2019 and November 18 this year.
These importers appeared before the CIID with information on the quantity of onion they sold as well as the names and addresses of the persons to whom the onions were sold.
The NBR has the information the imported onions are being hoarded illegally aiming to create an artificial crisis in the market. Besides, there are allegations of money laundering in the name of onion import.
“We’re trying to identify the businessmen who’re trying to create an unstable situation in the country through an artificial crisis,” a senior CIID official told UNB.
He said the onion stock in the country was enough and there was no reason to suffer from any such crisis.
"But hoarding of onion by some dishonest businesspeople has created this crisis…some importers have formed a strong syndicate…they didn’t take any step to sell the onion when it was rotting in godowns. As a result, the price shot up to Tk 250 in the retail market," he said.
The CIID sources said 2.52 lakh tonnes of onions were imported during the July-October period of the current fiscal year, while 11.37 lakh tonnes during the July-June period of the fiscal 2018-19.
According to the data of Department of Agricultural Extension, the production of onion in the country is 23 lakh metric tonnes against the demand of 25 lakh metric tonnes. But 30-35 percent onion gets rotten for lack of proper preservation. As a result, the country has to import 8-10 lakh metric tonnes of onion.
Meanwhile, the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) has scaled up the sale of onions at Tk 45 per kilogramme at divisional and district levels throughout the country, including 50 locations in capital Dhaka.
Earlier this month, locally-grown onion was sold at Tk 100-120 per kg in the kitchen markets in the capital. But the price jumped to Tk 160 on November 12 and then kept rising.
Although several consignments of onions have been brought in by air, city dwellers are yet to see its impact on the market.
Shrimp farmers in the district are counting losses in the wake of a cruel double blow that severely depleted their stocks of the fish known as ‘white gold’.
Barely one and a half months ago, shrimp worth Tk 25 crore died in different parts of the district due to oxygen failure following heavy rain. With shrimp farmers still reeling from the huge losses, cyclone ‘Bulbul’ unleashed its fury in the coastal districts on November 10, dealing another blow to the shrimp farmers here.
Around 7,500 enclosures were damaged by the cyclonic storm in the district with gushing water washing away different species of white fish, including prawn, and putting the livelihoods of the farmers on edge.
The tidal surge which ‘Bulbul’ brought with it broke the banks of the enclosures while uprooted trees fell into those in many places, resulting in the pollution of water as tree leaves rotted beneath water.
According to sources at the district fisheries office, a Tk 25-crore shrimp, known as the ‘white gold’ of Bangladesh due to its lucrative export value, died due to oxygen failure after heavy rain swept the district on September 22 last.
Already facing huge losses, cyclone Bulbul came as a double blow for the shrimp farmers in different upazilas, including Sadar, Chitalmari, Fakirhat and Mongla, the district.
District fisheries officer Dr M Khaled Kanak said a total of 7,334 fish enclosures covering an area of 2,851 hectares were damaged by ‘Bulbul’. “Shrimp and white fish were washed away by water,” he said estimating the financial loss at Tk 3 crore.
Seven boats and 4,425 metres of net of fishermen were also taken away by the water, he said, adding that Mongla was hit hard.
Visiting different areas, including Charbaniayari, Krishnanagar and Kharamkhali in Chitalmari and Daharmoubhog and Faltita in Fakirhat, it was found that the fish enclosures were still bearing the trail of destruction left behind by the cyclone.
Uprooted trees were still found dumped in enclosures in some places. As a result, tree leaves got rotten under the water and a stinky smell was coming out.
Besides, dead fish were found floating in some enclosures.
Santosh Kumar Basu, a fish farmer of Krishnanagar, said prawns worth Tk several lakh were washed away from his enclosure by gushing water during the cyclone.
Dulal Roy of Charbaniyari said trees fell into fish enclosures at several places of their village. “Fish are dying as the water got polluted after tree leaves got rotten.”
Nitish Dhali of Daharmoubhog said incessant rain due to the cyclone broke down the banks of the enclosures, washing away shrimp.
President of Bagerhat Shrimp Farmers’ Association Fakir Mohitul Islam said white fish, including prawns, were washed away from enclosures in different areas of the district after Bulbul lashed the coastal districts.
Besides, huge shrimp died due to virus attack and oxygen failure earlier, he said, adding that the shrimp industry might face a Tk 10-crore loss here due to the cyclone.
Fisheries experts said shrimp farming is badly affected due to the climate change. Shrimp dies due to oxygen failure following heavy rain after a drought for a long period.
It also dies after being affected by virus and for farming too much fish than the area of the enclosure, they said, recommending that the shrimp be farmed in a scientific way to get better outputs.
According to sources at the district fisheries office, there are 78,709 fish enclosures on 66,729 hectares of land in the district.
The number of fish farmers in the district is 67,557 while that of fishermen is 39,624.