Travelling from the drought-hit Satana taluka of Nashik district in Maharashtra and the Agricultural Produce Market (APM) in Chandwad is both gruelling and costly. Gruelling, because of the lack of proper roads along the way, and costly because it involves at least Rs 1,000 spent on tractor fuel. But Vikas Gulecha, who has cultivated onions on his five acres of land, is hopeful that the 40-km trek along untarred and pothole-ridden roads will bring him good news. “I took a loan of nearly Rs 5 lakh this year. Hopefully, I\'ll get at least Rs 4,000 per quintal for my produce and manage to pay off most of it,” he says.
At the market, his crop fetches him a price of Rs 3,300 per quintal, more than what he made in May, when he earned only Rs 1,500 per quintal, but not enough to pay off his debt. Gulecha has heard news of onions selling for Rs 80 a kg in metros, but cannot fathom how a crop that barely manages to earn him Rs 30 per kilo at the local APM can command almost triple the amount by the time it reaches the vendor in metros around the country.
On an average, small and medium-scale farmers like Gulecha invest Rs 30,000 -40,000 on each acre of land to yield around 150 quintals of onion. The crop is sown and harvested thrice, and the harvest in September normally has reduced yield due to rains and other climatic conditions. Since the beginning of this year, onion prices have almost doubled to what they were last year. As onion prices across cities hover between Rs 50-Rs 80 a kilo, the invariable problem that is being cited — low production — is strongly refuted by the farming community. Instead, they say that a vicious cycle of internal trading is resulting in an artificial escalation in the price of onions across the country. “On August 10, a particular tractor was auctioned for Rs 5,000 per quintal at the Nagpur APM. Within a few hours, the news spread like wildfire and by evening, vegetable shops in Delhi and other cities were selling onions at Rs 80 per kg,” says Deepak Pagar, another farmer.
The auction Pagar mentions is the key determinant in the price of onions. It is held at the APMs across the state, where farmers bring their ware for the traders (or the first rung