A new season for Odisha onions
In eastern India, wet season onion production offers a profitable new alternative for farmers.
No Indian meal is complete without onions, but supplies fluctuate from gluts to scarcity, causing big problems for onion growers.
In Odisha in eastern India onions are usually grown during the dry winter or Rabi season. Because of a lack of storage and postharvest facilities and over-production at this time of the year, farmers sell their crops right after harvest and prices are often low.
The World Vegetable Center has now created a profitable new alternative for farmers by promoting onion production during the wet summer or Kharif season, a practice that was never considered possible because of waterlogging problems.
Starting in early 2016, WorldVeg staff led by Visiting Scientist/Postharvest Specialist Arshad Pal began the project “Onion value chain improvements in Odisha state,” funded by the Odisha Department of Horticulture with support from the Central Government’s National Agriculture Development Scheme (Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, or RKVY). Three project officers based in rural Odisha worked directly with farmers in Bolangir, Kalahandi, Naupada, Boudh, Angul and Ganjam districts to improve onion production.
Arshad’s team introduced the innovation of raising onion seedlings inside polyhouses to safeguard them from heavy rains. Farmers also learned how to use improved production practices including seed treatment, raised beds, line sowing, covering the seed bed with paddy straw, line transplanting, weeding, plant protection and choosing the best times and methods for harvesting.
To the surprise of farmers, the Kharif onion performed very well at many of the project sites. “We were provided with quality seed and improved cultural practices from the World Vegetable Center to cultivate onions in Kharif for the first time,” said one farmer. “It was a big success, enabling us to sell the produce to the market agent at a higher price of Rs 12-15 per kg.”
The fact that many farmers had yields of 17 t/ha—higher than the usual 12 t/ha from their Rabi crops—and received double the normal Rabi season price created huge interest.
Local TV news channels and newspapers approached the WorldVeg team and farmers for coverage of the first example of successful Kharif season onion production in the region. Reports were published in the local ‘Samaj’ newspaper and broadcast over the ‘Zee-Kalinga’ TV channel.
Having been shown what is possible, farmers are keen to expand Kharif onion production next year. By spreading production over a longer season, and by using improved varieties, management, and postharvest practices, onion production in Odisha will never be the same again.
Story and photos: Arshad Pal and Warwick Easdown