Train to Bangladesh comes to the rescue of onion hub Nashik after Covid disrupts business

Workers at a godown in Manmad, Nashik, pack onions in sacks for export to Bangladesh | Vasant Prabhu | ThePrint

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Nashik: Santosh Haribhau Jadhav, an onion farmer in the Manmad area of Nashik, is racing against time to sift through his 100-tonne harvest, throwing the rotten ones aside and collecting the fresh ones in a pile for packing. 

Mangesh Malvi, an onion trader, is also counting the sacks being loaded onto racks in his godown next to the kanda (Marathi for onion) mandi, because there’s literally a train to catch.

After months of meagre-to-no sales during the Covid-19 lockdown, these men finally got a chance to salvage their produce for the season with a first-of-its-kind special onion train to Bangladesh arranged by the Central Railways.

The onion industry in Nashik took a massive hit after the lockdown was announced, with few trucks available to ferry the produce to mandis and other states. While the lockdown allowed exemptions for essential products like food items, most local mandis shut down amid a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases. The demand for onions declined drastically, causing a loss of lakhs and crores to farmers and traders, and the lack of work forced labourers to return home.

“We had a good produce this year, but there was no one to buy it. Almost 50 per cent of the produce rotted and we could do nothing,” Santosh Haribhau told ThePrint. 

“I lost 50 tonnes (50,000 kg) of onion, just because it kept lying around and there was no one to purchase it. It is even difficult to calculate how much we lost. This time we have not even recovered the cost of farming,” he added.

As the losses continued to mount, onion traders’ associations across Nashik got together in May and approached the operations and commercial unit of the railways, which otherwise helps with the transport of products to states across India, seeking their intervention.

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