KUALA LUMPUR: 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 in Indian onion supply caused the price to skyrocket.
According to reports, the price of Indian onion jumped from only RM4.90 to RM24 a kg, causing an uproar among cooks in Penang and other northern states.
The situation became critical as Malaysia imports 60% of 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 cultivating their own onion plants, the idea may have its own stench.
Agriculture director-general Mohd Nasir Warris said it is not viable to produce onions locally as the cost of importing onions from India is lower than producing it here.
If it is grown locally, he explained, the profit margin for local farmers would be very small and not worth the 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 added.
Mohd Nasir said the cost of importing onions from India is low due to several factors, including the fact that it is planted manually, and there is abundant labour supply in India compared to 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 pointed out.
Previously, he recalled, the department had collaborated with an Indian company on a pioneer project to grow onions but the production costs were too high.
The effort did not get a positive response from local farmers as the effort was not profitable compared to other crops which gave higher returns.
He also said the weather plays a big role in onion growing as it is best grown in a sub-tropical climate with low humidity.
Mohd Nasir however felt that onions can be grown in Malaysia given certain conditions such as technological advancements which could increase production and reduce costs.
But detailed studies must be conducted to find the most suitable mechanism before that can be done, he added. – Jan 30, 2020, Bernama