While facing an uphill battle to tame the skyrocketing price of onion at local markets, the government has put its faith in e-commerce to restore normalcy in the demand and supply of the kitchen staple.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi yesterday launched the sale of onion of the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) preliminarily through five online retail platforms at Tk 36 per kilogramme (kg), way lower than any of the rates currently trending in the markets.
For the time being, consumers will get three kgs against each order placed in Dhaka or Chattogram in a bid to discourage stockpiling.
Gradually both the quantity and areas from where orders can be made will be expanded, he said.
The five platforms -- Chaldal, Swapno Online, Sindabad, Sobjibazar and Jachai -- have already started selling the TCB onion while three others will soon follow suit.
Prices shot up between Tk 100 and Tk 120 per kg last week after India announced halting onion export to Bangladesh. Just a week earlier it was Tk 40 and Tk 50 per kg.
This new avenue will allow customers from across the country to avail quality at affordable prices from their local markets, the minister said while inaugurating the move through a virtual meeting featuring the owners of various e-commerce platforms.
The TCB retails the highly consumed vegetable through its Open Market Sale (OMS) programme, which mainly aims at providing food at affordable prices for the country's lower-income bracket.
Under the programme, onion is being sold at numerous locations on the backs of trucks.
People of the low-income earners generally do not own smartphones and therefore, purchasing onion via online platforms is out of the question for them.
On the other hand, consumers who cannot find the time to buy onion from the TCB trucks but own smartphones can easily buy the product from the comfort of their homes, Munshi said in a statement.
The concept of selling TCB onion online is a relatively new one and so, a few challenges could arise.
"But we will have to push forward and solve those problems. Onions are not something to be worried about as the country has an adequate stock of the kitchen staple," he added.
According to the commerce minister, India has agreed to export 25,000 tonnes of onion to Bangladesh while another 10,000-tonne shipment is also expected.
Last week, prices increased exponentially following India's decision to halt onion exports to Bangladesh. Munshi then blamed a section of unscrupulous traders and panic buying for the sudden price hike.
Prices eventually started to decline after news broke that India would resume shipping onion to Bangladesh on trucks, which were and are entering the country gradually.
Mainul Islam, port manager of the Sonamasjid-Panama Port Link, said although a total of eight onion laden trucks entered Bangladesh through the land port at Mahadipur on Saturday, their passage was ultimately halted on Sunday.
Babul Hasanat Durul, an onion importer, said India stopped sending onion through the Sonamasjid land port.
Besides, the Mohdipur land port customs authority did not get any order on Sunday from the ministry concerned about the onion import and so the trucks there continued to be left stranded.