India’s ban on onion exports skyrockets prices in Asia

From Kathmandu to Colombo, it’s a kitchen nightmare, reveals Business Standard: That’s because India, the world’s biggest seller of the Asian diet staple, has banned exports after extended Monsoon downpours delayed harvests and supplies shrivelled. Onion prices have more than doubled in most neighbouring countries in the last month alone.

Asian consumers have developed a serious dependence on Indian onion supplies. Shorter shipment times than from rival exporters like China or Egypt play a crucial role in preserving the taste of the perishable commodity.

But last Sunday New Delhi banned all exports from India after local prices jumped to 4,500 rupees ($63.30) per 100 kg, their highest in nearly six years, due to the delay in summer-sown crop arrivals triggered by longer, heavier rains than usual.

Since the ban, countries such as Bangladesh have turned to the likes of Myanmar, Egypt, Turkey and China to increase supplies in a bid bring prices down, government officials and traders said.

India exported 2.2 million tonnes of fresh onions in the 2018/19 fiscal year ended March 31, according to data from India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority. That’s more than half of all imports by Asian countries, traders estimate.

Rising prices of alternative supplies will add to the headache for importers trying to get the vegetable from elsewhere. Consumers in Bangladesh are now paying $1.42 per kilogram for onions – twice the price a fortnight ago and the highest since December, 2013.

Prices are going up elsewhere in Asia and Europe too. Other exporting countries are taking advantage of the Indian ban to raise their asking price.

In response to the crisis, the government of Bangladesh has initiated sales of subsidised onions through the state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB).

Shipments from elsewhere – Iran and Turkey –will all take time. “It takes one month when it comes from Egypt and about 25 days from China, while it takes only a few days from India,” said a Dhaka trader to Business Standard. Onion prices in Sri Lanka have risen by 50 per cent in a week, to 280-300 Sri Lankan rupees ($1.7) per kilogramme.

Shekhar Ghosh is consulting editor, He has edited and written for publications like Business India, Business Standard, Business Today, Outlook and many other international publications. He can be reached at

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