Bitterness is written all over Boureïma Hamado’s face as he prepares to return home after selling his onion crop at the Katako market in Niger’s capital, Niamey. He’s taken a big loss on his harvest.
Mr. Hamado brought 20 sacks of onions – 140 kilos in total – to Niamey, hoping to sell them for a good price. He needed 4,500 francs CFA per sack (around nine US dollars), though he was hoping for up to 6,500 CFA. But, as he explains, “This venture has cost me more than 100,000 CFA ($200 US) and I lost out at every point, because just to bring the onions here, I borrowed 15,000 CFA.”
About 300,000 Nigerien farmers grow onions, generating around 100 million dollars in revenue a year, according to the Federation of Market Garden Co-operatives of Niger, a Niamey-based smallholders’ organization.
But this year, onion producers faced huge problems because the market is saturated. Mr. Hamado says, “I bet on high profits from onions – which were selling for more than 25,000 CFA ($50 US) a bag last year – and increased my production, but I didn’t account for a glut on the market.”
Idrissa Bagnou is president of the Federation of Market Garden Co-operatives. He says, “There was a bumper harvest because farmers have become more professional, have had better access to seeds, and the total number of [onion] farmers has gone up.” Consumption, however, has not increased, either locally or in importing countries.
Mr. Bagnou adds, “Foreign traders, who usually buy onions throughout the year, hadn’t finished selling off stock harvested in September 2011 from Agadez (in northern Niger) when the December-February crop from other parts of the country came onto the market.” This explains the steep fall in price.
While onion producers are in turmoil, consumers are delighted. Fatouma Harouna owns a restaurant in Niamey. She says, “In 15 years, I have never seen the price fall so low. A bag of onions which last year cost as much as 40,000 CFA ($80 US) is now selling for 5,000 CFA. It’s truly a bargain for us.”
High prices last year were due to a temporary shortage. Responding to the problem, the government met with stakeholders in the onion sector in early March to help distressed producers and better organize how and where to sell the crop.
Abdoulsalam Douma is an expert at the Federation of Market Garden Co-operatives. He says one short-term solution would be for the government to buy part of this year’s harvest directly, paying producers at least $40 US a bag, an average year’s price.
Mr. Douma believes that farmers need loans to build storage facilities. He says, “What’s needed are … the establishment of offices to coordinate buying and selling in all the onion-producing areas and allow farmer associations to better organize their sales over time.”