The government has planned to produce 3.0 million (30 lakh) tonnes of onion this year as part of its strategy to make Bangladesh an onion surplus country.
The government looks to make Bangladesh self-reliant in onion production within the next two years, although experts take it at least five years to attain.
The experts, mostly from the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI), said a five-year roadmap is necessary to achieve such a milestone as development of new varieties is time-consuming.
They suggest a round-the-year cultivable variety.
Bangladesh has made the initiative as a section of traders often make a cartel on the back of export bans by India and earn a windfall profit.
The latest Indian restrictions also posted a spike in onion prices to an eye-watering level, hitting hard the people on low incomes who are already impacted by the ongoing pandemic.
Onion price was just Tk 30-50 a kg on September 01. Two weeks later, it swelled to more than Tk 100 a kg after reports of export ban by India.
People familiar with the development at agriculture ministry told the FE that Bangladesh is now self-sufficient in cattle production after similar restrictions by India.
They said Indian ban on onion will also help Bangladesh attain self-sufficiency in onion production.
Agriculture minister at a parliamentary standing committee meeting at Jatiya Sangsad on Thursday said Bangladesh will emerge as an onion-surplus nation shortly.
Ministry insiders told the FE that the government plans to produce at least 3.0-million tonne onions in the upcoming Robi season, just 300,000 tonnes behind the annual demand.
"We've taken steps to produce at least 3.0-million tonnes in the next Robi season," said Md Hasanuzzman Kallol, additional secretary and in-charge of the extension wing of the ministry.
Bangladesh had produced 2.5-million tonnes of onion in the last 'Robi' season. And 3.0-million tonnes up means 500,000-tonne additional production.
Mr Kallol said this is possible as they are exploring farming in Chattogram hill tract, Sitakunda hilly area, char land and through inter-crop with cane and maize for limited land.
The middle areas of Bangladesh, the ministry people said, is ideal for onion production and they will emphasise the districts as well.
Currently, nine districts cover nearly 80 per cent of onion production, including Faridpur, Mankganj, Pabna, Rajbari, Kushtia, Jhenidah, Magura, Madaripur and Rajshahi.
The ministry officials further said that the government is now implementing a project styled 'Paribarik Khamar' under all 45,000 unions across the country.
Mr Kallol said at least one bed must be used for onion cultivation which will meet the demand for the same for the households concerned.
On the other hand, experts say Bangladesh needs a five-year roadmap for making it a surplus country from the existing onion-deficit country.
"We need year-round production of onion and, for this reason, we need to adopt new technologies," said BARI principal scientific officer Md Shalim Uddin.
Releasing new and improved varieties takes time, he cited.
"To my mind, first year will be spent on germplasm collection, second year on seed variety development, third year on hybridisation, fourth year on large-scale multiplication and fifth year on technology dissemination."
Mr Shalim said production per hectare is an estimated 10 tonnes and it may easily be double through adopting new technologies and varieties.
He estimated that Tk 25 billion is required for the R&D (research and development) on onion during the period.
Bangladesh now spends between Tk 20.0 billion and Tk 40.0 by importing onion to meet its shortage of an estimated one million tonnes.
Agricultural economists suggest that the government make onion production profitable for farmers.
Dr Yunus, a senior research fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said, "If you ensure onion production is profitable for farmers, they will grow more and more."
The government may engage microcredit-providing organisations to motivate farmers in the cultivation, he told the FE.
"They (farmers) should be incentivised as well," Dr Yunus added.
Dr M Asaduzzaman, a former director (research) at the BIDS, said the technology on production and preservation of onion is known to all.
"We have adequate funds but we need long-term planning…," he observed.
Storability is very important and the technology on how to preserve it as its high content of water cannot be stored with the existing cold storage.
Around 15 per cent of onion is lost due to the lack of proper preservation.
The annual demand for the kitchen item is 3.0-3.5 million tonnes, whereas output is 2.5-million tonnes.
Onion seed requirements are 1,100-1,200 tonnes and seed production by the government is around 60 tonnes.
The remaining seeds are supplied by private companies.