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India exported 11.61 lakh tonnes of onions during 2006-07 which is a record quantity after the export was canalized through NAFED. There are many ups and downs recorded in export quantity and value which is due to fluctuation in production and prices, and sometimes due to ban imposed on export to safeguard the interest of consumers in the country. Big onions having, light red to dark red coloured bulbs are grown in most of the parts. Small onions, known as rose onion, and Krishnapuram onions are grown in Kolar district in Karnataka and Cudappah district in Andhra Pradesh. Multiplier onion, known as Podisu and Shallots, are grown in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Andhra Pradesh.

Big onions produced in Maharastra, Gujrat, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are exported from Mumbai, Chennai , Tuticorin, Kandla and Kolkata ports to Dubai , Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Middle East, Malaysia, Singapore, Seychelles and Bangladesh. Onions grown in India are very much in demand in Gulf Countries and Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh because of strong pungency.

Small onions produced in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are exported from Chennai port to Singapore and Malaysia, and multiplier onions to Singapore, Malaysia,Sri Lanka etc. Maharashtra has maximum share in onion export.

The NHRDF has developed all the 3 types onions , Agrifound Dark Red and Agrifound Light Red (big onion), Agrifound Rose (small onion) and Agrifound Red (multiplier onion) for export. Important characters of these onions are given in Table 1. The NHRDF have also tested yellow varieties where Arad(H) of Hazera Seed Co. , Israel has performed best.

Table: Important characters of onion varieties





( % )

( q / ha )


Agrifound Dark Red

Dark red

Global round, medium to big

90-100 days from transplanting



Medium storer

Agrifound Light Red

Light red

Global round, medium to big, compact , outer scale tight

120 days from transplanting



Good storer

Agrifound Rose

Scarlet red

Flatish round, 2.5-3.5 cm diameter

95-110 days from sowing



Good storer

Agrifound Rose

Brick red

5-6 bulblets/ clump, bulblet of 2-2.5 cm size

66-67 days from sowing



Good storer

Arad (H)


Big-sized global round bulbs of 6-8 cm diameter

90-100 days after transplanting



Poor storer

Onion Village

The concept of developing the onion villages may help increase the export of onion. The provision of financial assistance to exporters to complete in the international market may also be looked into. Export on regular basis not only helps in getting foreign exchange earnings but also allows farmers to get remunerative price for their produce thereby encouraging them to sustain the production and availability of onions. Government should in fact have long term export policy and should even introduce contract production system in suitable pockets.

Quality standards for export

The quality standards of onion have been fixed by Agmark although now it is not mandatory to obtain Agmark certificate for onion export. It is necessary to maintain the quality by observing the standards. The grades , big ,medium, small and mixed are followed for different types of onions which depend on requirements from importing country. In the survey made by NHRDF , it is observed that Middle East countries demand light red to dark red colour, European countries and Japan demand yellowish /brown colour onions having mild pungency, 3-4 cm sized onions are preferred in Bangladesh, 4-6 cm sized are preferred in Middle East and Far East, while European and Japan prefer 6-7 cm sized onions. Rose onions of 2.5 - 3.5 cm size and multiplier onions of bigger size with attractive red colour bulblets are preferred for export. European countries and Japan prefer yellow big-sized onions. The demand in these countries is from February and up to May when it is very easily possible to cultivate onion in Nasik area of Maharashtra.

The bulbs selected for export should be reasonably uniform in shape , size, colour and pungency. They should be mature ,solid, reasonably firm with tough clinging skin, thoroughly cured and dried outer scales free from dirt and other foreign material. Defective, diseased, damaged bulbs caused by seed stem, tops, roots, moisture, dry sunscald, sun burn, sprouting, mechanical or other injuries and staining, free from moulds, soft rot and insect attack should not be used for export. The trained labourer are thus required for grading and packing of onions for exports. The packing size for export varies from 8 to 25 kg depending on requirement of onion by importing country. Although jute mesh bags are used for export, if there is no restriction for their use due to environmental pollution problems in some countries, plastic-wooven bags since are reusable and attractive, should be introduced.

Scope for increasing export

India is presently exporting onions to mainly Gulf countries, Far East countries, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka where there is not much scope to increase the quantity as some countries have also started their own production. The scope , however, exists for diversifying the market to European countries and Japan. These countries do not prefer strong and pungent onions. In these countries, yellow onions having mild pungency, bigger bulb size with thick fleshy layers are preferred. The possibility of growing yellow onions in Maharastra, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and other parts was explored by NHRDF by taking trials on farmers' fields where bulbs of Arad ( H ) could be successfully produced during late-kharif season. The evaluation of various exotic varieties has been done in the past and is being taken up by NHRDF now also where good bulb development with required size and quality could be produced during late-kharif season and thus export from February to May by sending bulbs in electrically-ventilated containers could be explored. For this, however, contract production is preferred as there may not be much local demand for these onions if not purchased by exporters for export.

Similarly, there is a scope for exporting dehydrated onions as many processing units under export-oriented unit schemes have been installed in India. These are not presently running to their installed capacity mainly for want of raw material. Thus, there is a scope for development of varieties suitable for dehydration. Onion Agrifound White developed by NHRDF holds promise in this regard. This variety has already been given for evaluation under ICAR coordinated trials.

Effect of export of onions on domestic supplies and price

There is general feeling that prices of onion within the country go up if export is increased which is not true as the quantity exported is about 10-12% of the total production. Proper planning for production ,increased export on the other hand may help growers to get remunerative prices for good quality produce and develop the tendency for growing high quality produce by farmers as also encourage them to maintain the production level of onion which is essential to maintain the supplies even for domestic markets demands without much price fluctuation.

The production practices and post-harvest handling if taken by the growers and others involved in the onion industry based on scientific and recommended guidelines would maintain the quantity and quality required for domestic and export markets both and thus may not have much effect on internal supplies/prices of onion. With this view, the expansion of area under kharif in non-traditional pockets in North and Eastern India and cultivation of early crop by set ( bulbet ) production are being popularized by NHRDF so that onion supply for domestic demand is maintained and export of onion is also continued.

Constraints in onion export

There are some constraints seen in onion exports and suggestions to overcome these problems so that onion export from India is not only continued but maybe increased:

Suggestions for improvement

•         Popularization of improved varieties, quality seed production and distribution, expansion of area in non- traditional pockets and contract production for export.

•         Planning for contract production for export market expansion of area and production of kharif onion for early harvesting.

•         Unawareness of proper post harvest practices and quality Training of farmers and others involved in onion production, post-harvest management and marketing.

•         Packing material used is not attractive Introduction of attractive, eco-friendly packages, consumer packages etc.

•         Electrically-ventilated containers for export of yellow onions to Europe . Adequate transport with reasonable rates, synchronize the rail/road transport with schedule of

           vessel and providing insulated wagons.

•         Developing more ventilated storage godowns for onions. Providing handling sheds and make available modified containers with proper ventilation

•         To develop market intelligence for different seasons, quality of produce and corresponding season crop in other competing countries.



The strategies suggested to improve the export of onions are:

•         Production and distribution of quality seed of improved varieties in adequate quantities by following seed village concept.

•         Development of disease and insect pests resistant, heat / moisture stress tolerant varieties by taking such work at DOGR.

•         Development of biological control measures against pests and disease by taking up work with DOGR and NHRDF.

•         Development of yellow coloured hybrid and OPs for export to European and Japanese markets by popularizing the technology for production during late-kharif based

           on work undertaken by NHRDF and adopting contract production.

•         Development of bigger bulblet varieties in multiplier onion.

•         Training of farmers, traders and exporters involved in onion production, handling and marketing.

•         Creation of adequate curing and storage facilities at field level and at ports.

•         Popularizing various onion products in export markets developing varieties suitable for various processed products.