Onion cultivation in the east to curtail imports

Bulb onion cultivation in the eastern region has proven to be a successful venture as more and more shops are now selling the local variety due to the mass cultivation of bulb onions in the region.

The boost in the home production of onion is thanks to the Research and Development Centre (RDC), Wengkhar, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests that initiated the bulb onion cultivation in the country a few years ago.

The initiative has now spread to Trashigang from this month. RDC,Wengkhar and RDSC, Khangma under Trashigang in collaboration with dzongkhag agriculture sector in Trashigang have already completed onion cultivation in seven  low lying places under Trashigang.

The winter months, where wetlands are usually left fallow, are now being utilized for bulb onion cultivation. Most of the farmers have expressed that the paddy and onion cropping system is best suited in irrigated wetland.

According to a research officer with the RDC,Wengkhar, Kinley Tshering, many eastern farmers have been enrolled in the mass bulb onion cultivation, on a commercial scale, to offset the import of onions.

The aim was also to boost domestic production of vegetables in line with the commercial vegetable production initiated by Department of Agriculture (DoA). A study undertaken by RDC found that onion production helped farmers generate net returns of Nu 60,000- Nu 126,450 per acre.

“The intervention has also received positive interest from farmers since it can be cultivated in wetlands after paddy is harvested, which otherwise are left fallow,” said Kinley Tshering.

As for the advantage of onion cultivation over other cash crops, Kinley Tshering said that growing onions is easier than growing other cash crops since the crop is less damaged by wild animals due to the seasonal advantage.  In addition, the crop remains unaffected by major pests and diseases. The onion cultivation is a lucrative relay crop in the paddy based farming system in potential areas of the eastern region.

“Onion cultivation is easy and entail less hard work,” Kinley Tshering said.

The area under onion cultivation has increased from 19 acres to 29 acres in 2014, in addition to increase in the number of households from 133 in 2013 to 226 households in 2014. The project was initially implemented in mainly Lhuentse.

Similarly, the production has also increased from 36.3 tonnes in 2013 to 44.6 tonnes in 2014. Among the dzongkhags, Samdrupjongkhar produces almost 50 percent of the total onion production in Bhutan. However, the other eastern dzongkhags are also showing increasing trends in production.

On the marketing front, within a two-year observation, farmers are able to sell about 50 percent of the onions they cultivated, bringing home a cash income of Nu 0.545 million to Nu 0.753 million in the respective years.

Farmers in Samdrupjongkhar have minted the highest income in 2013 amounting to Nu 0.256 million which Lhuentse has taken over in 2014 with Nu 0.201million in income generated. Lately, farmers in Mongar too observed a drastic increase in income generated as compared to the previous season.

In addition, it is felt that no frequent intercultural operations are required except for about 2-3 weeding and irrigation requirement during the entire season. Moreover, spring onions can also be sold as a substitute for green vegetables in late March and April when green vegetables are not readily available

Encouraged with its success, RDC, Wengkhar is further exploring the other areas to bring under bulb onion cultivation. The bulb sites and grouping of farmers for growing onion is done through the geog agriculture extension office. After which seeds of a variety of bulb onion called ‘Pune Red’ is procured from National Seed Centre, Paro to be distributed to the farmers. The funding support for seed procurement is given by RGoB, HRDP-JICA and MAGIP.

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