India is the second-largest onionproducing country in the world, accounting for 19 per cent of the world’s onion production. India produces about 22.43 million tonnes each year on an average but consumes only about 16 million tonnes, making it an onion exporting country.

However, the National Horticulture Development Board (NHDB) estimated there would be a domestic onion shortfall of 1.6 lakh tonnes during the kharif season of 2019-20 due to untimely and prolonged rains, which damaged the crops. India banned exports in September 2019 with a view to moderating the rises in the domestic prices of onions.

In November 2019, the government decided to allow imports of 1 lakh tonnes of onions from countries like Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iran to control the soaring domestic prices. The retail onion price was over `150 per kg in the major cities of India.

Previously, the country had imported 1,987 tonnes of onion in FY16 in containers.

A committee was formed by the Department of Consumer Affairs to ensure that the entire process of importing and distribution was streamlined to ensure timely arrivals and movement of onions and their sale by the states.

  • 1. The Committee Relaxed Import Regulations, Such As
  • Relaxation of fumigation norms
  • Size range of onions was expanded to 40-80 mm
  • Exporters could offer shipments in multiple lots
  • Consortium bidding for import tenders was allowed

Boxco Logistics was awarded the prestigious job of handling the imports of onions, which arrived in a break-bulk vessel at Mumbai Port in December 2019. The onions were ordered by AGT Foods India Pvt. Ltd., a multi-national trading company. This was the first time ever that the country had imported and handled onions in refrigerated vessels.

A second vessel laden with onions for Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation Ltd., a state-owned enterprise, was also handled by Boxco at Mumbai Port in January 2020.

The onions, packed in 25 kg bags, were stacked on wooden pallets inside the holds of refrigerated vessels on multiple decks.

The table below gives the details of the imports handled at Mumbai Port.

Date of ImportVesselQuantity (MT)ImporterOrigin
December 2019 MV Cool Girl 4,500 AGT Foods India Pvt Ltd Turkey
January 2020 MV Green Magic 3,397 MMTC Ltd Turkey
  • 2. The Cargo Discharging Operations Involved The Following Activities
  • Stevedoring and discharging the cargo in nylon slings using ship cranes
  • Using forklifts on board to load the cargo onto steel pallets and clearing the cargo inside the hatch coaming
  • Forklifts were used on the wharf to cart the cargo directly to an adjacent warehouse or to load the pallets onto trailers for onward carting to distant warehouses
  • Using forklifts to unload the cargo and stacking at warehouse for subsequent onward delivery

Boxco Logistics also assisted the importers in getting a reduction of port wharfage (by up to 70%) on onions, by closely liaising with the Mumbai Port Traffic Department and the Ministry of Food Affairs. This also helped in reducing the overall cost of imports for the country.

Below are the pictures showing various operations involved in the discharge and storage of onions :

1. Onions inside a hold

2. Cargo in the centre of the hold is cleared using net slings

3. Cargo being loaded onto a steel pallet by a forklift

4. Pallet being unloaded on the wharf

5. Forklift placing a pallet on a trailer

6. Trailers moving to a warehouse where the onions will be unloaded

7. Forklift stacking the cargo inside a warehouse for subsequent onward delivery

8. Cargo stacked inside a wellventilated warehouse

The onions were stored inside warehouses that had all the doors open to allow a natural flow of air for ventilation

Subsequently, the onions were dispatched by road to various key markets as in the table below :

StateMajor destinations
Maharashtra Vashi, Pune, Kolhapur, Nasik
Madhya Pradesh Indore
Chhattisgarh Raipur
Andhra Pradesh Hyderabad
Karnataka Bangalore, Hubli
Tamil Nadu Pollachi, Tirunelveli
  • 3. Committee Lifts Ban On Onion Exports

In March 2020, the government announced the lifting of the 6-monthold ban on the export of onions with effect from 15 March 2020, as bulk prices had stabilised in the local markets. After, the arrival of the bumper rabi crop in the wholesale markets, the price of onions declined sharply, prompting farmers to ask the committee to lift the export curbs.