Curry crisis as India suffers onion shortage

Dean NelsonTelegraph Media Group Limited

India has banned the export of onions after a blighted crop sent prices soaring, leaving many poor families unable to afford a staple curry ingredient.

Prices have doubled in recent days to $1.34 per kilogram – more than the daily income of almost 500 million Indians. The sharp rise has led to hoarding and fears that the price will climb higher still. Some traders predict prices could hit €1.65 per kilogram before they stabilise.

The shortage was caused by heavy late monsoon rains in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan states. Officials had expected crop yields to fall by just under a quarter but instead discovered entire crops had been devastated in some areas. The country is currently relying on warehouse stocks to cook the Indian staple of dal (lentils and onions) and sabzi (curried vegetables).

To head of a growing domestic crisis, ministers ordered a ban on exports to the Gulf states, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka until Jan. 15.

A member of Delhi's Agriculture Board said: "The monsoon had completely ruined the Maharashtra crop while in Rajasthan it was affected by both extreme summer heat and then heavy rain. Prices were quite high even in October and November but we were expecting things to stabilise as the backup crop had started coming in. Now even that has been exhausted," he said.

One Delhi restaurateur said onions were now so expensive he would no longer give them away as side dish accompaniment with kebabs.

Professor B.B Bhattacharya, a leading economist at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the humble onion had often been the cause political unrest and its dramatic price rise could sting the government.

"A couple of years ago, the BJP government was discredited after the price of onions went up. Onion price hikes have a history of political fallout.

Both government and people react to it. Fear will encourage the hoarding of stocks that will further take the prices up," he said.