Consumers cry as onions hurt purse more than the eyes

All you need are some roots, CAP research officer NV Subbarow says, as he points to a picture of shallots grown organically at the association’s headquarters at Green Lane, Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: The eye-watering prices of onions, sold for between RM10 and RM20 per kg in major wet markets in the country over the past two months, has caused much hardship to consumers already reeling from the high cost of living.

Major hypermarket chains, however, appear to be selling them at reasonable prices of between RM6 and RM8 per kg, but their stocks are dwindling.

Most onions in Malaysia are imported from India and they used to cost RM4 to RM8 a kg before September.

India has since raised the export price of onions to US$850 per tonne to keep stocks for local consumption following an acute shortage caused by floods in key onion-growing states there.

The country exported 2.2 million tonnes of onions in the 2018/19 fiscal year ending March 30, Reuters reports, making it the largest exporter in the world.

The Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama) said onion prices here were only expected to go down in February.

Fama chairman Ishak Ismail said 60% of the onions in the country were imported and that 70% came from India.

Ishak said imports from India had dropped from 4,742 tonnes in October to 1,399 tonnes this month.

He said onions at Fama’s pasar tani, Bazar Peduli Rakyat and MyBest were priced 5% to 20% lower than at wet markets.

Malaysia also imports onions from China, Pakistan and Egypt.

Import from Egypt and Afghanistan, says CAP

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) is afraid the high prices of onions will be used as an excuse to raise food prices.

CAP’s complaints chief Ravinder Singh said consumers were suffering as they now had to pay more for onions, adding to the already high cost of living.

Malaysia should immediately increase purchases from other countries, such as Egypt or Afghanistan, where onions were reportedly plenty and still reasonably priced, he said.

Ravinder said large consignments of these onions would stabilise market prices.

“We should tap into other markets instead of being fixated with only one country for any foodstuff,” he said.

He also said Malaysia had plenty of fertile land that could be used to grow onions.

Easy to grow onions locally

CAP research officer and green expert NV Subbarow said onions could easily be grown on any piece of land and in containers in apartments.

In just 90 days, he said, one could expect eight to nine onions from just one root. A quarter acre of land could support 100 onion plants, yielding 800 onions.

He also hoped domestic trade officers would check all shops to prevent profiteering and hoarding.

Subbarow also had some advice for consumers on how to know if an onion was fresh: “Onions, when peeled, should cause your eyes to water and must be spicy to taste. That is how you know it is fresh.”