Onions are fast becoming luxurious to many households as the prices have increased by more than 150 per cent. As a result, many people are resorting to cooking without it, and those who must use it pay through their teeth.
A visit to the biggest onion market in the North-West, Aliero in Kebbi State, showed that commercial activities are at their lowest ebb. Devoid of its usual hustling and bustling, the market stalls, which were usually filled to the brim with the commodity, were virtually empty.
Onion business, one of the highest money-spinning ventures in Aliero, the headquarters of Aliero Local Government Area, suffered devastating effect as it is the case in most other businesses at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hardly had the businesses recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic before the #EndSARS protest surfaced.
It was learnt that the dwindling fortune of the business had rendered many people bankrupt.
Many businessmen from Aliero are into the business of supplying onions to the southern part of the country while few others operate as middlemen between dealers from the South and locals.
The Aliero onion market is seasonal as is the case with most others where there are perishable commodities. Onion business reaches its annual peak between December and February. This is the period when a glut is usually experienced.
The prices of the commodity may start to rise as supply to the market shrinks. At the peak of business, the market accommodates thrice its capacity.
At such peak period, over 30 vehicles, mostly trailers, are said to be involved in the daily haulage of the commodity to other parts of the country. At this period, the market virtually operates 24 hours.
Smaller vehicles only supply to the market from producing communities while the articulated ones transport in tonnes to other parts of the country.
A member of the Kebbi State chapter of the Onion Producers and Marketers Association of Nigeria (OPMAN), who did not want his name mentioned, said dealers lost millions of naira worth of goods to the violence that accompanied the #EndSARS protest in the South-East. He said several vehicles conveying onions were damaged on most of highways.
On the skyrocketed prices of the commodity in the country, he said the COVID-19 pandemic and the violence of #EndSARS protest altered supply as most farmers could not go back to their farms because they had not recovered the money from dealers who lost their commodities.
He said while farmers could not produce enough, dealers closed shops due to low supply.
“Our association will soon complete its assessment of the loss incurred. Many vehicles, both private and commercial, loaded with an unaccountable number of onion bags, were burnt. Looking at the enormity of the loss, if there is no intervention from government, many will be out of business.
The hike in the prices of onions across the country is largely a result of the #EndSARS protest which turned violent. Most dealers are out of business because they lost all they had. You know supply and production work together; once one is affected, the other will be affected too. This is exactly the situation at hand,” he said.
The treasurer of OPMAN in the state, Alhaji Salla Nawarai Aliero, said before the #EndSARS protest, COVID-19 affected most of dealers because despite the fact that there was no restriction on the movement of food items during the lockdown, the market was not there as people were barred from the streets.
Aliero added that over 2,000 bags of onions belonging to some dealers were trapped in Enugu market when the lockdown was announced, and due to the perishable nature of the commodity, it spoilt before the lockdown was lifted.
He said the market was not open until a month ago, and before that, half of the goods had damaged.
He said a change in the farming pattern, outbreak of diseases in the rainy season, farmers’ shift from farming in the rainy season to dry season, and the fact that businesses delayed in picking up in the market, affected the business.
“Where the supply keeps coming, the prices of the commodity crash, but shortly afterwards, the tide may change as the trend gradually takes a new course. The supply gradually decreases, while on the other hand, the prices of the commodity begin to appreciate steadily until it gets to a certain bar, like what we have now,” he said.
In Anambra State, a basket of onions, which previously cost between N18, 000 and N20, 000, is now N80, 000. Residents lament that the change is prices is affecting their mode of cooking. They said the smallest ball of onion, which is not enough to cook, is sold at N50. Some of the residents were surprised that they could not afford what used to be one of the cheapest commodities in the market.
A trader in foodstuff at Eke Awka market, Awka South Local Government Area, Mr Micheal Onah, expressed surprise at the new cost of the commodity.
“This is unbelievable; and no one could give an exact reason for the hike in the price onions. In the past, I could buy about six bags and sell within one week, but it is now difficult to sell a bag of onions because people do not buy as before,” he said.
Mrs Uche Okafor, a housewife, said the year had been difficult for the masses, and wondered why onions would become out of reach for the common man. She said she had been preparing her meals without onions because she could not afford it.
“The smallest balls of onions which traders usually gave out for free are now sold at N50. There is no N20 onion in the market again. And the commodity is important in a meal,” she said.
Another resident, Mrs Perpetual Nwaora, also said, “I cannot struggle to get money to buy rice at N36,000 a bag and also buy N200 onion to cook.”
She said onions had become a luxury and must be treated as such.
Another resident, Chief Mrs Chinenye Okafor, said that no matter the cost, she would always use onions to cook, saying that without it food would be tasteless.
“What I normally do now is to monitor how my children use onions in the house while cooking. Before now, if I bought onions worth N500 I would use it for months, but N5,000 worth of the commodity is just like that of N200,” she said.
Nasir Mohammed, who sells onions in the Mogadishu market in Kaduna, said it was normal for the commodity to be expensive during this time of the year, but added that the situation was worse this year.
According to him, the major problem is that farmers and dealers used to take the produce to other countries such as Chad, Cameroon and Ghana, but because of border closure, dealers from those countries now come in to buy in bulk so it can last them a while. So they buy more than they did in the past, making the commodity scarce here.
He said that between September and December, a big bag of onions used to cost between N5,000 and N7,000, but presently, it is N60,000. A small bag is between N47,000 and N50,000.
“No matter how expensive the commodity is, people will buy because it is essential in cooking, but now, we cannot sell at N500,’’ he said.
A housewife, Hajiya Halima Abdullahi, expressed concern over the high cost of onions in the market.
She said she had no option than to reduce the quantity used in preparing her soup.
“I used three to four onions, but I have reduced it to one or even half because it is expensive. I bought N1,000 worth of onions, which didn’t last few days. It has not been easy because I enjoy using it in food,” she said.
Similarly, Hajiya Maimunah Sani, also a resident of Kaduna, said, “The price is getting high daily because there is no control. This is the problem.’’