Chattogram-based Alam Traders received a consignment of 59,880 kilogrammes of Burmese onions at Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf land port on November 11. The importer paid about Tk 43 for each kg, show its documents.
On the same day and the next, per kg of the bulbs was sold for Tk 110-120 in wholesale markets in Chattogram and Dhaka.
The prices kept going up every day and on Friday hit a staggering Tk 180-200 a kg at the Khatunganj wholesale market in the port city.
This indicates how some unscrupulous traders jacked up the prices of the essential cooking ingredient, cashing in on the supply crunch at the domestic market, said market observers.
The crisis stemmed from the Indian ban on onion export and dwindling stock of locally-grown onions, they said.
Over the last week or so, especially after Cyclone Bulbul hit the southern part of the country, onion prices went up by over Tk 100 a kg, causing public outcry. Many cut short onion consumption.
For the last two days, the retail price in Dhaka and many other districts was Tk 250 a kg, which is a record high.
Traders said the high prices decreased customers’ demand. There were fewer buyers at the markets yesterday.
A recent government announcement that a huge quantity of onions would be imported by air cargo may also have impacted the sales, they said.
Speaking at the Awami Swechchhasebak League’s council at the capital yesterday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also said the government would import onions by air.
She said planes carrying onions would land either today or tomorrow, UNB reported.
The PM also said there might be some people who were out to make money by hoarding onions and hiking their prices.
Yesterday, a mobile court in Narayanganj fined three traders for selling onions at higher prices and for not having a price chart.
Talking to The Daily Star, several traders said a section of onion traders, including importers, was taking advantage of the onion crisis.
They said there was a supply shortage in the face of low import and a decline in supply from the districts that grow onions.
“Supply has been low compared to the demand. Importers hike prices as there are plenty of buyers,” said Md Liton Sheikh, a wholesaler at the capital’s Mohammadpur Krishi Market.
Contacted, Shah Alam, owner of Alam Traders, said 20 to 25 percent of imported onions get rotten on their way to local markets due to a lack of preservation facilities.
“Apart from this, the actual import costs are higher than the ones mentioned in the import documents as we need to make separate payments in the countries we buy onions from,” he said, adding that although documents show the import cost was Tk 43 per kg, it was actually Tk 90.
He said onions had never been imported from Myanmar on such a large scale before and that’s why many importers were given low-quality bulbs. “Onions are perishable and they rot.”
Data from the Teknaf land port show that around 100 importers brought in 32,643 tonnes of onions from Myanmar since India banned onion export on September 29.
Tk 43 was the average price of each kg, show the data.
According to Chattogram Customs House data, the average onion import price from China is between Tk 30-Tk 36 per kg while it is between Tk 15 and Tk 32 for those brought from Egypt, Pakistan and Thailand.
The wholesale and retail prices of these varieties were also much higher at the markets.
Wholesalers at Shyambazar, one of biggest wholesale onion depots in Dhaka, said some importers were trying to send onions directly to different districts as they eye more profit.
Markets observers, however, said importers were not the only ones responsible and blamed a section of onion traders.
Mohammad Shah Alam, a wholesaler at Mohammadpur Krishi market, said he along with three other traders from the market met an onion importer at the Shyambazar Bazar yesterday.
The four were willing to pay the importer Tk 88 for each kg, but another wholesaler bought the bulb from him for Tk 92 a kg. Later, he took the onions to Karwan Bazar in a truck.
In the market, the retail price was Tk 250.
Talking to this newspaper, traders at the market said there was a dearth of customers.
Abdul Momen, a wholesaler, said he did not get a single customer since morning till noon.
The number of customers was also low at Mohammadpur Town Hall Market.
“Prices are too high. Many customers are returning empty-handed,” said Riaz Hossain, an onion trader there.
Onions shoots were also pricey. Each was selling for Tk 130-140 at different markets.
Meanwhile, the BNP yesterday announced it would stage demonstrations across the country tomorrow, protesting the price hike.
Party Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir made the announcement after a standing committee meeting at the party chairperson’s Gulshan office last night.
ONIONS DUMPED IN CTG
Rotten onions were dumped on the banks of Chaktai Canal and the Karnaphuli river yesterday.
Photos of the dumped bulbs went viral.
Asked, traders at the Khatunganj market said they dump rotten onions on a regular basis as the bulb is perishable.
This correspondent saw several sacks of decayed onions in front of almost every onion shop.
Joni Barua, a wholesaler in the market, said five to six percent of their onions rot due to a lack of storage facilities.
[Our Staff Correspondent Shaheen Mollah and Staff Reporter Dwaipayan Barua contributed to this report]