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As prices soar, NAFED to import onions

Bidding war: Traders at an auction for onions and potatoes at the Jivraj APMC wholesale market in Ahmedabad.   | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji

The central cooperative NAFED will soon begin importing onions in a bid to tame soaring prices, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal said on Friday. The government is already facilitating import of the kitchen staple by private traders, with 7,000 tonnes of the bulb already having arrived in the country, and another 25,000 tonnes expected to arrive before Diwali.

In the week since the Centre imposed stock limits, invoking the provisions of the newly amended Essential Commodities Act, the all-India average retail price of onions has continued to rise, increasing by ₹10 to almost ₹66 per kg, although Mr. Goyal emphasised that prices have largely remained stable over the last three days. Apart from imports, he expressed the hope that the expected arrival of the new kharif crop next month would also help to cool down prices.

Dwindling buffer

Although NAFED had created a buffer stock of one lakh tonnes from the rabi crop, from which it has been releasing stock into retail markets directly and through State governments, it has already disposed of 40%, and another 25% is expected to be lost to damp and rot. The Central cooperative agency will soon commence import of onions as well, Mr. Goyal told journalists.

Onions are already being bought from Egypt, Afghanistan and Turkey by private traders at market rates, with the Directorate General of Foreign Trade facilitating import by waiving quarantine and fumigation requirements. Onion exports were banned last month, and exports of onion seeds were also prohibited on Thursday.

With regard to the other staple, potatoes, where all-India retail average prices are hovering around the ₹42 per kg mark, Mr. Goyal said that 30,000 tonnes have been imported from Bhutan. Import duties have been cut from 30% to 10% until the end of January.

Paddy procurement

In his first press conference after taking charge of the Ministry, Mr. Goyal said record paddy procurement was expected this year, with a projected increase of 18% from last year. He pointed to this as proof that government procurement at minimum support prices would not be affected by the new agriculture reform laws, and dismissed ongoing farmers protests against these laws, as “a last-ditch, vain effort by certain vested interests and political parties in one State.”

With regard to NAFED’s scheme to procure apples from Jammu and Kashmir, Mr. Goyal claimed that the scheme had managed to reach only 1% of its 13 lakh tonne target last year because “J&K farmers had got a better price in the market, so they had no need for procurement”.

Nevertheless, NAFED has set an ambitious target of 12 lakh tonnes this year as well, as a “backstop measure”, so that farmers can sell to the Central agency if they fail to get a good price from the market, he said.

Mr. Goyal confirmed that a proposal to transfer the Bureau of Indian Standards from the Consumer Affairs Ministry to the Commerce Ministry was “under deliberation”. Earlier, Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had not been keen on such a proposal. However, Mr. Goyal is now responsible for both ministries.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 11:37:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/as-prices-soar-nafed-to-import-onions/article32986798.ece

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