High cost of onions teary affair for local users

Thursday, May 23rd, 2024 02:00 | By

The cost of onions has remained elevated this year despite increased supply from the peak harvest in March, raising concerns among consumers.

According to April’s Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data, the price of a kilogramme of onions saw the highest increase of 0.3 per cent, while sugar experienced the most significant drop, falling by 8.3 per cent.

The scarcity of onions in the local market has caused prices to spike from about Sh40 per kilogramme to almost Sh280 per kilogramme in the short term. This has spiked the cost of living yet Kenya produces only a small percentage of the onions consumed locally, increasing dependence on imports.

Earlier KNBS reports indicate that inflation for non-vegetable items, which Kenya primarily imports, rose from 4 per cent to 4.3 per cent. Onion prices at some point increased by more than half to 52 per cent, carrots by 60 per cent, and potatoes by 10 per cent.

Experts attribute the scarcity to import dependency, climate change, rising transportation cost and unexpected disruptions in local and international markets. Kenya has long relied on onion imports from neighbouring countries such as Tanzania to meet domestic demand. This dependence makes the country vulnerable during periods of scarcity, but consumers are turning to cheaper alternatives.

Seeking alternatives

“These days, people are substituting the red onions with the white ones which are bigger and a kilogramme goes for only Sh150. Leeks are also cheaper going for Sh100,” a buyer hinted to Business hub.

Jane Gatumia, an agronomist at Simlaw Seeds Kenya, explains that Tanzanian onions are popular in Kenya due to their long shelf life and market-friendly prices. However, recent heavy rains in Tanzania have disrupted onion imports by destroying crops, exacerbating the scarcity.

Local farmers, who market traders now depend on for supplies, have also been affected by recent floods, which have directly impacted onion production.

“Onions prefer warm weather for optimal production and bulbing. When we experience heavy rains, challenges such as pest and disease outbreaks arise, and bulbing, which is a genetic issue, is affected. If production is compromised, we don’t have enough in the market, and that is where we are right now,” Jane explained.

The floods have acted as agents of disease and pest dispersal, stripped nutrients from soils, and washed away crops, all of which have directly affected onion production.

“In the market, they say that crops were destroyed by the rains and that closed borders have also affected the prices of onions. We buy them at a very high price, and when we sell them at these same high prices, customers think we’re exploiting them,” a local trader said.  The level of supply of onions is lower than the demand, hence the rise in prices.

The shortage of onions in Kenyan markets underscores the need for proactive measures to strengthen the resilience of the onion value chain. Agronomists at Simlaw Seeds address advise farmers to use high-value seeds such as Gobit F1, which produce 10-15 tons per acre, compared to local variety seeds, OPV, which produce 3-5 tons per acre.

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