August 9, 2019
Our daily sambar and lentils would be incomplete without small onions or pearl onions (scientific name Allium cepa) that are a close relative of the leek family. Pickled and peppered in Chinese and Continental cuisines, its taste and health benefits have popularised demand in India and abroad.
Several hundred hectares of small onions are cultivated in the rich red soil of the villages of Perur taluk in Coimbatore district.
Chitra Banu Arumugham, assistant director of horticulture, Thondamuthur area, tells The Covai Post: “Nearly 700-800 hectares of small onions are grown in this area and farmers reap 2-3 harvests annually. Only seedlings or saplings of small onion are sown, that farmers have reserved in pattrais or sheds from previous crops. It is a rotational process and we give subsidy of Rs 87,500 for 25 metric ton of seedlings. We have also put drip irrigation in 95% of farm lands with a subsidy of Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 per hectare.”
The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) specifies four by four spacing for planting onions to avail subsidies, but many farmers plant close together to get maximum yield. Chitra adds, “They also cultivate water absorbent crops like plantains and turmeric in between and the extra moisture has created a basal rot in the small onions. We have corrected it through TNAU but they should follow rules for a healthier harvest. We are also trying to create awareness on native onion cultivation but farmers are unwilling as it has less revenue.”
K Raghuraman, a farmer who has 11 acres under onion cultivation in Thondamuthur agrees: “Consumers mostly housewives are the main reason for popularising hybrid onions. They want big-sized bulbs that are easy to peel, sweet tasting and easily cooked. Each acre will yield 5-6 tons of hybrid onions, whereas for native onions we get only 3 tons per acre. So though we prefer native onions, only hybrid variety brings profits.”
Small onions in India are exported to Sri Lanka and far eastern countries. Farmers like Raghuraman sell their harvest to government-owned Direct Purchase Centres after a three-month drying period. A recently launched government web portal titled E Thottam allows farmers to register their names, emails, crops to trade online at current rates.
Chitra Banu said, “We will help them to register if they approach the local agricultural offices in their areas.”