Prospects of Onion Cultivation in Tripura
Dr. Tridip Bhattacharjee* and Dr. T.K. Maity**
Onions (Allium cepa L.) have an extensive culinary, dietary, therapeutic, trading, income and employment generation value. It is the most important and indispensable item in the worldwide kitchen as a condiment and vegetable. Onion (Allium cepa L.) is one of the few versatile vegetable crops that can be kept for a fairly long period and can safely withstand the hazards of rough handling including long-distance transport.
Bulb contains allylpropyl disulphide, a volatile oil that accounts for its distinct pungent flavour. It lowers the bad LDL, cholesterol and triglycerides and increases the good HDL cholesterol in blood. Quercetin, one of the important flavonoids found in onion, helps to prevent high blood pressure.
Eating onions is beneficial in the treatment of diabetes, cancer and asthma besides heart diseases. Onion juice is used for external application on burns, insect bites and wounds and taken internally as a digestive stimulant. Onion has great demand in processed forms also apart from green leaves, immature and mature bulbs, and immature inflorescence. Processed products like, onion Flakes, Powder, Paste, Crush and Pickles not only reduce transport cost but also storage losses. It is used as salad and cooked in various ways in all curries, fried, boiled, baked used in soup making, in pickles and for other purposes.
Onion is grown throughout the world and major producing countries are China, India, U.S.A., Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, Russian Federation, Spain and Brazil. India is the second-largest producer of onion after China. Area under onion and in India is 12.85 million hectare with a total production value of 23.26 million tonnes, respectively with average productivity of 18.10t/ha (NHB, 2018).
Besides meeting domestic need, India exports a sizeable quantity of onion, India’s recent export of onion during 2017-2018 is about 15.88 lakh MT which valued of Rs. 3088.82 crores (NHB, 2018). The major importing countries of onion are UAE, Singapore, Gulf Countries, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The varieties exported from India are Pusa Red, Agrifound Dark Red, Agrifound Light Red, N-2-4-1, N-53, Bhima Super, Bhima Shakti, Sukhsagar and also Poona Red, Bellery Red of common big onion group etc.
Onion constitutes around 8.2% of the total cropped area under vegetable crops and it shares 6.0% of the country’s vegetable production (Rai and Pandey, 2005). The leading onion-producing states are Maharastra, Karnataka, Gujarat, A.P., M.P., T.N. and U.P.
Though there is a possibility of growing Kharif & rabi onion in some pockets of Tripura the whole process is not performed by adopting the proper agro-techniques and lead to very less production. Hence it is extremely essential to look forward for the production of rabi & kharif onion bulb production for meeting the domestic demand as lion's share of the onion require for Tripura is used to export from the other states specially Karnataka and West Bengal. The production status of onion in Tripura is area coverage 160 ha with production of 1050 MT with very less productivity (NHB, 2018).
Scope in Tripura for Kharif Onion
The estimated per capita consumption of onion in India is about 9.37 kg/year (Samra et al. 2006). So, demand for onion in Tripura may be estimated as 38.42 thousand metric tons per year against which production was to the tune of 1050 metric tons during 2020-2021. Considering post-harvest losses as 15- 30% about 750-800 metric tons may be available for domestic consumption in Tripura. So, there is an estimated gap of 37 thousand metric tons per year between actual onion production and consumption in Tripura.
As Tripura produce mostly onion as Rabi crop which is very negligible in quantity, the State extremely depends upon supply from other States like West Bengal, Maharashtra and Karnataka particularly during the offseason i.e., July to February and also thought out the year.. This situation leads to exploring the scope of onion cultivation during Kharif and late kharif season and the storage of rabi onion. In India, the production seasons and arrivals of onion in market lead to a typical situation where prices tend to peak during September to November and reduce from January to March/April every year.
The three main seasons of Kharif (monsoon), Late Kharif and Rabi (winter) contribute 20%, 20% and 60% respectively, to the total onion production in India. Generally, the onion storage filled by Rabi onion gets emptied by around August to September beyond which storage loss rises to 30% and above. There is a scarcity period during October – November. The deficit in market supply during the period after September is responsible for the higher prices that prevail during September to November. In Agartala market, there is a trend of price rise from June onwards and it lowers during March – April every year. Production of onion in Kharif and Late Kharif season is a new strategy to have a supply of onion during November onwards in Tripura and to minimize dependency on supply of onion from other States.
The importance of Kharif cultivation of onion to stabilize the prices is well accepted. The exploitation of the scope of Kharif onion in the uplands of Tripura particularly in the western Red & Lateritic Zone may be a good option as the average productivity of Upland Paddy in this region is very poor which is comparatively less remunerative than Kharif onion. Such area having good drainage system is very much suitable for the Kharif onion crop. Initiatives to cover more area having irrigation facilities by high yielding varieties of onion during Late Kharif and Rabi season along with creation of sufficient storage structures may lead to an increase the period of availability beyond June in Tripura.
◊ Staggered planting of onion with suitable varieties during Kharif and Late Kharif to address supply gap during September to February.
◊ Adequate research on proper agro techniques for all the season and identification/development of high yielding and hybrid varieties suitable for Tripura particularly for Kharif and Late Kharif season.
◊ Area expansion of Rabi onion with high yielding varieties suitable for storage.
◊ Increased Capacity for open air storage of Rabi onion.
◊ Emphasis on seed production of suitable onion varieties in Tripura, particularly for kharif onion.
◊ Adequate training to the farmers and crop demonstration for agro-techniques particularly seedling raising during Kharif season.
◊ Encouragement of nursery business for onion seedling particularly for Kharif and Late Kharif season.
◊ Evaluation of raising of kharif onion through sets / small bulblets.
◊ Planting of early rabi onion in November and harvesting during February- March to avoid pre-monsoon shower which cause poor storability of mature bulbs.
In Tripura, onion is generally grown during rabi season and the bulb is made available from April onwards but is not sufficient for the state. The state has to depend on other states which produce onion for the supply of bulbs during all round the year. Such dependence is sometimes resulted in abnormal increase in price.
This situation may be improved to some extent if the possibilities and potentialities of Rabi and Kharif onion growing are exploited. In the traditional growing areas, its cultivation in Rabi is not generally practiced mainly because of and unawareness of the farmers to its production technology and in Kharif weather vagaries. Seedlings raising is one of the major problem during that period which may be overcome if it is practiced under protected situation.
In the traditional upland rice areas, jute, cauliflower, brinjal, okra and cucurbits, etc. are generally grown during the mentioned season and these crops frequently do not fetch remunerative prices.
Preliminary studies by the College of Agriculture, Tripura since last two years revealed that Rabi & Kharif crop has the potentiality in this state particularly in the Alluvial and Red & Laterite Zone mean up land during kharif and low land during rabi if care is taken during seedling raising.
With the refinement of production technology developed by NHRDF, Nasik for adaptation of Rabi & Kharif onion in Tripura, and popularization of the same among the farmers, the state will economically be benefited in general and farming community in particular at least in early year with home consumption.
Therefore, a study has been proposed on standardization of production technology for adaptation of onion in Tripura with an attempt to reduce the dependence on supply of onion from other states as well as to improve the economic conditions of the farmers.
In the present scenario, it may be concluded that there is huge scope for augmentation of onion production in Tripura. Managing the crop scientifically and professionally by strengthening production and handling techniques, enhancing productivity, penetrating in foreign markets helps the farmers to increase economic returns.
There is need for survey and diagnosis of lands suitable for onion and development of area specific farming system model in cluster approach. The government may formulate an appropriate policy to invest in research and development for enhancing the yield of this crop. Farmers may be encouraged to cover more area under onion by providing the most critical input i.e. quality seed and creation of sufficient storage facilities.
As onion, particularly the Kharif onion is a high-risk crop, there is a need to encourage the farmers to cover the crop under a crop insurance scheme. Seed production of onion may be a profitable venture for Tripura farmers. Farmers may be encouraged to produce onion seeds not only for rabi varieties, but also for Kharif varieties also through the seed village/ cluster programme. Though several initiatives have been started from Government’s end and the Agricultural College in Tripura, more efforts should be taken by various promoting agencies to achieve self-reliance in onion production in Tripura.
*. Assistant Professor (Horticulture), College of Agriculture, Tripura, Lembucherra
**. Principal, College of Agriculture, Tripura, Lembucherra