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Onion farming can stop labour migration from Orissa

"In Orissa, the usual Onion cultivation season starts from the winter and goes on till the early rain. This season starts after the harvest of paddy. Only 45,270 Hectares of land is used for onion cultivation in Orissa where as in India, about 6,83,530 Hectare of land is used for this purpose."

Basudev Mahapatra : June 6, 2007

One of the essential commodities of the Indians, Onion plays a vital role in public life and politics as well. It has influenced the national elections and changed governments at the centre as well as in many states many a times and sent the ruling politicians to their own den. In Indian politics, onion has never been treated as a mere commodity but an weapon to attack the government and parties in rule.

However, shortage of onion not only gives opportunity to the opposition to grill the ruling members, but it also creates lot of problems for the common man because Onion is an integral part of the daily meal of an ordinary man. This may not be a common trend throughout India, but it is very common among the Oriya people. As per the report of State Agriculture Department, the people of the state consume Four Lac metric Tons of onion a year where as the net onion production in the state is nearly 2.7 Lac metric tons. So the rest 1.3 Lac metric tons are imported from Maharastra, Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh every year. But the fact that will put every one wondering is, Orissa has so much of potential in producing Onion that it can meet whole of its demand and export it to other states. But, this is a dream yet to be fulfilled.

In Orissa, the usual Onion cultivation season starts from the winter and goes on till the early rain. This season starts after the harvest of paddy. Only 45,270 Hectares of land is used for onion cultivation in Orissa where as in India, about 6,83,530 Hectare of land is used for this purpose. Average annual Onion production of the state is only 2.7 Lac Metric Tons (MTs) where as the national average is 67.02 Lac MTs (Source: Indian Horticulture Database Millenium 2000, National Horticulture Board, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, Gurgaon, India. 2000.)

The western part of Orissa, which is more publicized as the drought prone region of the state, is mainly the high yielding zone for onion cultivation. The soil in this region is black cotton soil and thus is considered to be the appropriate one for Onion Cultivation. Mr. Jagdish Pradhan, a development initiator mainly involved in the development of western Orissa says, branding western Orissa a drought prone area is a game played by some politicians and selfish intellectuals of the state because water level is just below 4-5 feet the ground. Any one can get water at his field by only digging a well and this is widely practiced in this region. So this is the best place for onion cultivation and this alone can change the economic scenario of this area as well as the whole state and make the state one of the major onion exporter of the country.

But this has not yet happened. Among many others, one major reason is, lack of awareness about onion cultivation. Small and marginal farmers are still dependant on the usual paddy cultivation. In case of a bit unusual behaviour of the nature these farmers have to incur heavy loss and go outside in search of work and livelihood. These farmers have not yet been educated about Onion cultivation and how they can earn better by shifting to Onion cultivation from their traditional paddy cultivation against the wrath of nature.

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The other but important reasons are, lack of technical support and direct link of onion farmers with the market. Many farmers have been educated and motivated by some NGOs as well as State Horticulture Department to go for Onion Cultivation. But what the farmers will do after the harvest? Who will buy them? What will be the price? Many such questions are there which bother the farmers and ultimately they fall into the hands of a middleman or a greedy businessman who takes their produces at a very low price. The farmers have no other way because there is no facility available to store the onion and wait till a better bidder approaches.

The quality of the onion produced in this part is another curse to the farmers. The pale pink variety produced here can’t attract more buyers in the state and so is sold at a lesser price in comparison to the Nasik red variety. A little technical assistance or training would empower these farmers to produce better quality onion and make better money. The red onion variety, N 53, which has been successfully developed for the northern Indian plains and implemented on a large scale in UP, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan etc. with the help of National Horticultural Research Development Foundation can also be tried in Orissa. Or some alternative variety can be developed for these farmers and they must be provided with necessary technical support and storage facility. Then only Orissa can be a potential exporter of onion.

Apart from this, it can stop migration of Oriya people to other places in search of job that is the biggest problem all over western Orissa. As, there are many uncertainties involved in regular paddy cultivation and that is not enough to meet the yearlong requirement of the peasants family, the village farmers and their young family members use to migrate to other states like Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat etc. in a large scale to get some sort of employment and earn for the family. But once Onion is considered as a cash crop and it’s cultivation is promoted in this region, most of the local farmers will be engaged in it. This has been successful in many places of the region where the SVA is active and has supported some farmers to do onion cultivation as an experiment. Not only this, there is also possibility of more investment in agriculture sector once Onion cultivation ensures itself to be profit making.

But the irony is, lots of declarations are made to promote horticulture and, specifically, onion cultivation in Orissa but they all see the same fate as most of the political promises made during elections end up with. So, as it seems, no politician nor the bureaucrats in charge give it a serious thought. Perhaps, Onion has not yet been a cash crop for the politicians and bureaucrats of the state.



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