The crying game: Malaysia’s dependency on India for onions

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The Indian onion may be smaller in size than other vegetables but many people especially in the northern states of the country shed tears last year when a shortage of onions from India caused price to skyrocket.

According to local media reports, the price of Indian onion steeply jumped from only RM4.90 to RM24 per kilogramme, causing an uproar among cooks in Penang and other northern states.

The situation became critical as Malaysia imports 60% of its onions from several countries and 70% of this is from India.

While some might say this would be a good time for Malaysians to start planting their own onions, the idea may bring its own set of problems.

In an interview with Bernama recently, Agriculture director-general Mohd Nasir Warris said it was not viable to produce onions locally as the cost of importing onions from India was lower than planting it here.

If they were grown locally, he said, the profit margin for local farmers would be very small and not worth their effort.

“If we produce onions, we have to sell them at the same price as imported ones, so the profit margin for our farmers is very small and it would not be to their advantage, ” he said.

Nasir said that the cost of importing onions from India was low because of several factors, including the fact that it is planted manually and there is abundant labour supply in India compared with Malaysia.

“We (Malaysia) have a very limited labour force – if we go to the big plantations and vegetable farms, the first thing that the operators tell us is that they do not have enough manpower, ” he said.

He added that previously, the department had collaborated with an Indian company on a pioneer project to grow onions but the production cost was too high.

The effort did not get a positive response from local farmers as the effort was not profitable compared with other crops that gave higher returns.

He also said the weather played a big role, with onion growing most suitable in sub-tropical climates with low humidity.

Nasir said onions can be grown in Malaysia, given certain conditions such as technological advancements that could increase production and reduce cost.

However, he said, detailed studies must be conducted to find the most suitable mechanism before onions can be cultivated here. – Bernama

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