Onion cultivation and trade in Nigeria have not been fully explored over the years, and both farmers and traders are therefore yet to enjoy the full benefits therein. As it is, few people invest in the produce as they should.
Although onion is a vegetable mostly cultivated in the northern part of the country, traders from across the nation, especially the southern part, patronise it and those cultivating it make appreciable gain out of it. It can also be grown in moist areas and alongside other crops.
Moreover, experts say the vegetable has a rich content and it is also notable for its medicinal value and antibacterial properties.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and health experts agree that onion is a healthy food in the sense that it improves one’s appetite and assists asthmatic patients, allergy, bronchitis, cold and cold-related cough ailments, among other benefits.
Regarding onion cultivation and trade, our reporter gathered that, all things being equal, a farmer who plants one bag can harvest 15 bags and realise a lot of gain from the sale.
It was also learnt that onion price fluctuates in the market, depending on the season, availability/supply, among other factors. Nonetheless, onion farming and trade have been found to be beneficial if one properly understands them.
Gambo Ibrahim Kutama, who sells onions at the Jos vegetable market at Farin Gada (popularly called Tomato market), told our correspondent that he also farms the vegetable, including cotton and maize. He said whenever he harvested his onions, he stored them and targeted when the price would be up before selling. He also buys and sells from other farmers/dealers.
“We sell the onions, both in sacks and baskets. Now we sell the sack at N15,000. The basket goes for N5,000. There are some others we arrange in heaps and sell at N200 or N400.
Onion always sells, and it has no specific price. Sometimes, however, it follows the law of demand and supply.
“Again, whenever onions are brought into the market in large quantities, the price often falls, and vice versa. That is how onion price is most often determined. Today ,you can buy it at a particular price, and the next day the price has changed. Sometimes, you can even buy it at a particular price in the morning, and in the afternoon the price has changed. For instance, there was a time onions were sold at N15,000 per sack in the morning, but towards afternoon, dealers brought in more quantities, and before evening, the price crashed to N7,000 per sack,” he recalled.
With respect to cultivating onions, he said it was very simple and profitable if one understands how to cultivate it, pointing out that if a farmer plants one sack of onions he/she can harvest up to 15 bags from that.
The trader/farmer described the process thus: “After getting the onions for planting, upon getting a good farmland for cultivating it, the farmer can go ahead to plant it during the planting season. Before all that, the farmer must first get a place where he/she nurses the onions. By this I mean that the onions (to be used for planting) should be kept where it would first develop shoots/grow leaves from their stems.
The farmer then goes ahead to plant them in seedbeds/ridges already prepared by either a tractor, cow ridge-making mechanism, or with hoe.
“After a month or so of planting, the farmer would need to weed off unnecessary grasses around the planted onions so that they can germinate well. The farmer will also need to apply fertilizer as the onions are growing. The weeding and the fertilizer application should be done at least twice each, between the planting and harvesting period.
“However, onion requires minimal fertilizer application compared to other crops. If the onions are planted during the rainy season, the rains will naturally fall and hasten their growth.
“But if it is planted during the dry season, for irrigation farming, then the farmer must look for a means of watering it regularly so that it can grow and germinate well.
“There is also the need to be monitoring the onions when they are planted to detect if any pest or disease is affecting them so that insecticide can be applied accordingly.
“The full circle or period between planting and harvesting onions is normally five months. This is basically how onions are planted, nursed to bring forth bountiful and good yield and then harvested.”
An onion dealer, Tasiu Kura, said the prices of onion fell in January from its December high; during the festive period when the price went up.
He said unlike before when people came to Jos vegetable market to buy onions in large quantities across the northern states and beyond, the buyers have now began going to the farmers and other dealers directly rather than waiting for them to bring the produce to the market.
“This is also responsible for the fluctuation in the price of the produce. However, in December, during the Christmas period, the price of onions went up because of the rush and high demand for it because of the Christmas celebration.
“This high demand also included other vegetables and tomatoes. But immediately after the Christmas and New Year celebrations, the demand reduced drastically and the price crashed,” he said.
Kura said some people were already preserving their leftover onion until the price goes up again, but explained that preserving onions requires lots of skill and expertise as it is easily perishable.
He noted that if, for instance, one buys 100 bags and stores them for about three months or thereabouts, awaiting for the price to go up before selling, if care is not taken, the person may end up realising only 70 bags or less and the rest would rot away, if he didn’t know how to store it.
The best way to preserve onions, he said, is to keep them where air is sufficient; where there is proper ventilation, adding that once even one ball gets rotten due to improper storage, it should quickly be removed, otherwise it would affect the rest.
Commenting, the chairman of the market, Aminu Yahaya Inusa, said the market was a daily one which had stimulated trading among many people and had also help raise many vegetable farmers.
He said that on Saturdays, people usually came from Enugu, Port Harcourt, Onitsha and other southern states to buy vegetables, including onions.
He urged the people to patronise onion cultivation and trading, noting that regardless of fluctuation in its price, the vegetable is highly profitable, and those who market it always realise more gain than loss.