New Delhi: Better connectivity of roads in Gujarat, the second largest onion-producer in the country, is making it easier for private trade to target the crop, which is witnessing a runaway rise in prices.
Gujarat produces 98.4 million tonnes of onions annually, and also enjoys the highest productivity of 20 tonnes per hectare.
Usually, up to 60% of the state’s farmers cultivate onions, but fed up of static prices of Rs 4-5 per kg in the last two years, the farmers decided to cut back on onion farming this year and switched to oilseeds, cumin, groundnut and cotton—all of which fetch good prices.
The resulting shortfall has got exacerbated as better road connectivity has ensured that opportunistic private traders have easy access to the crop.
Comments agro-economist Ashok Gulati, “India is passing through a demand driven revolution in fruits and vegetables. With retail on the runway, production has to move plate to plough, not the other way around.”
Now Ishwar Hameer Bhai, a 25-acre farmer in Surendranagar, regrets that he planted onions on only eight acres this year. “The price is beyond our expectations. But I planted tomatoes, cumin and brinjal as well because I really wanted to play safe,” he says.
Says Pankaj Bhai Dohraji, who has an eight-acre farm in village Punelimoti, district Rajkot, famous for its light red onions, “We are getting Rs800 per quintal, more than double what we got last year. Traders are coming here even from Maharashtra. I have dug up my onions to plant the next crop.” The next crop will be harvested in April-May.
Studies show that the current experience is part of an overall pattern that is emerging in Gujarat. An Asian Development Bank study conducted in four districts of Gujarat, found that farmers in villages newly connected with the road network abandoned food crops in favour of cash crops and vegetables. The study says that between 1997 and 2002, gram production soared by 615% in the sample village of Jamnagar, even while it plummeted in other villages in the district and the rest of the state which were not similarly connected. Likewise, in villages visited by officials conducting the study in Bharuch, gram cultivation increased by 35%.
Among oilseeds, sample villages in Kutch, which were well connected, showed an increase of 569% even as other villages in the district recorded a negative trend. The same was true of 72% of villages studied in Jamnagar and 42% of villages in Bharuch.
Interestingly, the study notes that the price of inputs such as fertilizers and agricultural tools also declined in these areas after being connected with roads. Most farmers in Gujarat have broken away from the wheat-paddy cycle of cultivation.
Says V.K. Singh, deputy director of the National Horticulture Research Federation in Rajkot, “Farmers here have diversified into non-traditional crops, which fetch them high prices. We provide them with breeder seeds, and the state has good roads and sufficient power, so farming is a lucrative profession.”
India’s investments in the road sector is expected to cross Rs2 lakh crore in the next five years, which might prompt farmers in other parts of India, too, to switch to cash crops and vegetables in numbers.