Of onions and potatoesThe need for Nepal to become self-sufficient in vegetables cannot be overemphasised.
As the monsoon begins to give way to the festival season, the price of onion, rather than the chemical irritant named syn-propanethial-S-oxide, has brought tears to the eyes of the public once again. From Rs35 a kilo two weeks ago to Rs120 a kilo as of Thursday, it is too exponential a hike in a short period that makes even well-off families to make a hue and cry. Added to that is the skyrocketing of the price of potato, from Rs60 a kilo to over Rs100 a kilo in two weeks. If not missing altogether, the two essential vegetable items are arguably entering Nepali kitchens in a much lesser quantity, thanks to our over-dependence on vegetable imports and the government's inability to keep a watch on the market.
At the superficial level, the reason why onion and potato prices have become exorbitantly high in the past few weeks looks pretty straightforward: Heavy and incessant monsoon rains have affected the output in India, directly hampering the import and causing an unusual price spike in the Nepali market. Moreover, those in the know say the consumption of vegetables, especially potatoes, increases during the two-week-long Sohra Shraddha when a large number of households shun meat, thereby increasing the demand and price of vegetables such as potato.
However, apart from the immediate concern of potatoes and onions entering Nepali kitchens in lesser quantities than normal, the larger issue is why the public is not insulated enough from the uncertainties of the external market for their essential supplies. The fact that over 80 percent of the onions sold in Nepal are imported speaks of the Nepali market's over-dependence on imports. The result is for all to see: An almost 40 percent spike in the price of onion has forced the Indian government to put a temporary ban on onion export, causing an implosion of the Nepali onion market. Unless we cure the root of the problem, it will manifest itself in one form or the other.
Moreover, unscrupulous traders see opportunity in the crisis and create artificial shortages to spike the price even as the government looks the other way and springs into action only when there is a huge public outcry. What the government must do instead is take a proactive approach and keep a watch on the market unremittingly so that there is no artificial shortage. As the country braces for a pandemic-style festival season, the extent of shortage as well as the price of essential goods is more likely than ever to spike. Amid the uncertainty, all they expect is to be able to celebrate the festivals sans the additional burden of a price jack-up at a time when many of them have lost their means of survival.
The government must also encourage the people to adopt alternative ways of dealing with such crises and meet their essential vegetable requirements locally. Despite the risk of sounding clichéd, the Post has said it time and again that there is no better time than this to begin terrace farming and revive small-scale farming at the household level to insure one's kitchens from the uncertainties of the retail market. Those who can afford to turn their terraces and open spaces into little patches of green must begin to make home gardening a lifelong habit, not only to insulate themselves from the uncertainties of the market, but also to keep the chemicals that come with bazaaru veggies at bay.