Locally grown onions are set to flood the market in Bhutan. This might stop the need to import onions. This is already the case in the eastern region. It was made possible due to enrolling many eastern farmers in mass bulb onion cultivation by the Research and Development Centre (RDC), Wengkhar, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests.
The commercial scale production started almost two years ago to lessen the heavy dependence on imported food in the country. RDC saw the huge potential in the production of locally grown vegetables, as proven by a study undertaken by RDC. Growing local onions is aimed boosting domestic production of vegetables, in line with the commercial vegetable production initiated by Department of Agriculture (DoA).
The study found out that onion production could generate net returns of Nu 60,000-126,450 per acre. “This is a most lucrative farming enterprise,” the report points.
The intervention also received positive interest from farmers since onions can be cultivated in wetlands after paddy is harvested, which otherwise is left fallow. Hence, the onions were convenient to grow as a relay crop in the paddy based farming system in potential areas of the eastern region.
The bulb site and farmers identified for growing onion was done by the Gewog Agriculture Extension Office, after which bulb onion variety called Pune Red seeds was procured from National Seed Centre, Paro. The funding support for seed procurement was given by RGOB, HRDP-JICA and MAGIP.
The report states that the reason for selecting the Pune Red is because it has a low percentage of bolting and the consumer preference in the markets. The training, demonstrations, and field visits for the farmers were also carried out extensively.
The area under cultivation increased from 19 acres to 29 acres in 2014, with an increase in the number of households, from 133 in 2013 to 226 households in 2014. The project was initially implemented mainly in Lhuentse and Trashigang and has now spread to other eastern dzongkhags.
Similarly, as per the report, the production also increased from 36.3 tonnes in 2013 to 44.6 tonnes in 2014. Among the dzongkhags, Samdrupjongkhar leads the production figures, producing almost 50 percent of the total onion production in the country. An increasing trend was also observed in other dzongkhags.
In the marketing front, farmers were also able to sell about 50 percent of the onion they produced in both the years, bringing home a cash income of Nu 0.545 million to Nu 0.753 million in respective years.
Farmers in Samdrupjongkhar have earned the highest income in 2013, amounting to Nu 0.256 million. In 2014, Lhuentse came in as the highest income earner with Nu 0.201 million. Lately, Mongar also observed a drastic increase in income generated compared to the previous season.
The report also states that the onion cultivation in the region has proven to be a successful venture. This is substantiated by the increasing area of onion cultivation. The imported onion in the markets and shops nearby has now been replaced by the local variety.
Farmers growing the onion have also expressed that the paddy and onion cropping system suits best in irrigated wetland. Such wetland, before the program, remained fallow during the winter months.
The report point that farmers expressed that growing of onions is easier than the other cash crops since there is no need to guard the crop from wild animals. In addition, onions are unaffected by major pests and diseases except during the seedling stage where minimal attack by cutworms is seen.
In addition, it is felt that no frequent intercultural operations are required except for about 2-3 weeding and irrigation during the entire season and can be sold as green vegetable like spring onions in late March and April when green vegetable are not readily available .
Encouraged by such success, the Wengkhar RDC is further planning to bring more areas under bulb onion cultivation and help more farmers, apart from fulfilling the ministry’s goal of boosting local vegetable production to substitute imports.