Cold storage units: Need of the hour

Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's comment that onion prices in north India would be normalised if supply from the south resumes has drawn flak from across the country. Even lay farmers in Tamil Nadu have mocked the justification that rains in Tamil Nadu had triggered price rise (of onions and shallots) in the north.

Spared from the stinging onion politics, unlike their northern counterparts, the farmers in Tamil Nadu are unwilling to buy the Union agriculture minister's “assumption”.
The unlettered farmers argue that onion price increased a tad more than other products, prices of which jumped several notches up, thanks to an economy moving at a glacial pace. Debunking the minister’s theory, which evoked not just surprise, but also laughter, CPM-affiliated Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam (TN Farmers Association) secretary P. Shanmugam says most of TN’s onion comes from the minister’s own backyard, Nashik in Maharashtra and Bellary in Karnataka.
It was not the rains, but the lack of it last year that reduced shallots (small onions) acreage in the Perambalur district, the hub of onion production in TN, from 24,000 hectares (one hectare = 2.5 acres) to 2,000 acres in a year, he clarified. If Mr Pawar is still unconvinced, he should ask the TN government, which paid drought relief assistance to the owners of the 24,000 hectares (shallots) last year, he argues.
A few farmers with pumpsets and borewells have planted in 2,000 acres to prepare the seeds for future cultivation, he added.
“Last year’s drought forced us to bring more onion from other states and hence the price rise everywhere. By Thursday, even that eased and onion prices fell to `56 per kg from last week’s `70 in Chennai. Moreover, we largely produce and consume shallots. That is one of the reasons why onions have not become fodder for politicians here,” reasoned Tamil Nadu Toddy Movement president S. Nallasamy.
“Even when onion prices touched `40 per kg, it brought a regime change in the north in the past. This time, all prices have shot up and people by far did not feel the pinch of it, particularly in TN,” Mr Nallasamy added, also attributing skyrocketing onion price to drought in Karnataka last year.
“If the Centre can invest thousands of crores on launching rockets why cannot it invest a bit of it on building cold storage units,” argued social scientist and former MIDS (Madras Institute of Development Studies) professor J. Jayaranjan. Onions would not have burnt a hole in people’s pockets if only the bulk produce (of yesteryears) was stocked in cold storage units, he added, blaming the Centre for lacking a conscious policy.
“What had become of the soft loan issued earlier to establish cold storage units?” he asked, reasoning that agricultural production across the country is not stable and it changes with climate change and hence it is imperative to build cold storage units to stabilise supply.

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