Solving India’s great onion puzzle


Photo Credit Twitter Sewa Gatha

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By S Jha

New Delhi, August 5: Five years ago, two Israeli agricultural scientists looked puzzled at the specific request of the top officials of the Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs. They were asked to find ways to enhance the shelf life of onions.

India’s tryst with the shortages of onions and tomatoes has been old.

People have voted out the government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the national capital over the shortage of onions and prices of the precious kitchen staple shooting off the roof.

Even a stalwart of the stature of Sushma Swaraj found her oratory dry to wipe tears of the people in Delhi in the 1998 Assembly elections when a kg of the kitchen essential vegetable ingredient cost more than chicken.

The Congress in the national capital for decades held forte in the rural parts, and the party is widely known in the political circle to have cashed in on the onion shortage to build an anti-BJP tornedo by resorting to all means.

“In Israel, we do a lot of research and we have extraordinary achievements in growing vegetables. But we still don’t know how to prolong the shelf life of onions, and that’s what your government is interested in as part of the post-harvest management,” said one of the Israeli agricultural scientists, while feasting on green salads at Claridges Hotel in the national capital.

In five years, the Narendra Modi-led NDA government at the Centre couldn’t find a solution to the issue of the onion shortages that take alarming proportion in winter months.

India in the past has imported onions from Pakistan and Afghanistan and sometimes even from far away countries.

Even Bangladesh is dependent on the Indian harvest of onions.

On Friday, the Ministry of Food and Consumer Affairs opened a ‘Grand Onion Challenge’ with Heads of Educational Institutions, Vice Chancellors, Professors, Deans of eminent institutions, Senior Academicians, executives of the startups, scientists from BARC, officers of the Department of Atomic Energy, Ministry of Education, DPIIT and professionals working in the field of Agriculture, Horticulture and Food Processing.

This challenge seeks ideas in product designs and prototypes for improving pre-harvesting techniques, primary processing, storage, and transportation of post harvested onions in the country.

“The challenge also seeks ideas for modernization of technology in dehydration, valorization of onions and onion food processing domain,” said a senior official.

The ‘Grand Onion Challenge’ has been thrown open from July 20 to August 15, 2022, seeking ideas in all the above domains from the best brains in the country.

It is expected that post the challenge, the losses in onion storage can be reduced by 5-10 per cent due to innovative ideas.

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