Railways empowers Saurashtra’s onion farmers to tap Bangladesh market

In a first for onion growers in Saurashtra region of Gujarat, their bulb will now be sold in Bangladesh thanks to the Indian Railways. The first goods train — a rake of 42 wagons — containing about 2,500 tonnes of onions from the districts of Rajkot and Junagadh will start from Dhoraji station in Rajkot district to reach Darshana railway station on the border of Bangladesh.

“Loading will be completed today and the first rake will start for Bangladesh. It is expected to reach Darshana station within three days as we have much better path availability for goods trains currently,” said VK Tailor, senior divisional commercial manager, Bhavnagar Division of Western Railways.

In the absence of regular passenger traffic due to Covid-19 pandemic, the Railways is exploring ways to scale up its commercial revenues by tapping new business avenues.

“Our main objective is that we should be able to achieve as much freight earnings as possible for railways. So we started approaching trading communities, APMCs, merchants and bulk buyers/industrial customers to check their transport requirements. In one such effort we surveyed the area of Junagadh, Dhoraji, Upleta, Gondal and found that there was huge quantities of onion lying with traders. We spoke to them and motivated them to transport it to Bangladesh, where there was a demand,” Tailor told BusinessLine.

Highlighting the significance of the development, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had also tweeted saying, the move is “propelling agriculture exports to economically empower farmers… in a first, railways is transporting onions from Dhoraji in Gujarat to Bangladesh.”

Freight earnings

The Railways is expected to make freight earnings of ₹46.55 lakh. While the move is seen as a win for the Railways amid falling revenues due to suspension of normal passenger trains, it has also come as a boon for the onion growers, who saw prices crashing in the local wholesale markets due to a glut as bulk buyers were elusive with no demand from hotels, restaurants, catering, social gatherings, etc.

In 2018-19, Gujarat produced about 7,20,000 tonnes of onion (6,69,000 tonnes during the rabi season and about 51,000 tonnes during summer harvest season). This year, the 2019-20 harvest season, onion output is estimated (Government of Gujarat’s Fourth Advance Estimate), at 13,06,000 tonnes, about 80 per cent more than the previous year, leading to a further glut situation.

The prices tumbled from ₹2,988 per quintal in January at Mahuva market, to ₹933 per quintal in June.

While the first onion rake is set to depart on Tuesday, railway officials informed that the traders are also preparing to send another onion rake in the next few days.

The onion exports will not just help the Railways to boost its commercial revenues, but will also lift the onion prices for the farmers.

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