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Georgia’s Onion Imports Exceeds 20 Thousand Tons – Why Farmers do not Grow Profitable Cultures

About 10 million USD outflows from Georgia every year because of onion imports. Besides traditional suppliers,  there are also such countries as Luxembourg, Egypt, Netherlands and Kenya. Experts assure that correct planning of production can bring 12 000 GEL profits on a hectare.

PMC Research Center prepared an analysis of ONION values chain in Samtskhe-Javakheti Region jointly with Samtskhe-Javakheti state university. The research project was financed by EU.

Onion Production in the World

According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world onion production made up 87 million tons in 2013. The figure seriously increased as compared to previous years (73.8 million tons in 2009).

According to averaged indicators for 2010-2014, main onion production countries are as follows: China (22 million tons), India (17 million tons), the USA (3 million tons), Iran (2 million tons) and Egypt (2 million tons). In the category of averaged crop capacity, the following countries are leaders: Ireland (71 tons on a hectare), South Korea (69.3 tons on a hectare), the USA (60.8 tons on a hectare), Australia (60.8 tons on a hectare) and Austria 57.6 (tons on a hectare).

Importer countries are as follows: Malaysia, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, Japan.

Exporter Countries: Netherlands, India, China, Egypt, Mexico.

Production in Georgia

Like many other food products, onion production in Georgia is not self-sufficient. Production volume declined from 19 000 tons to 12.7 thousand tons in 2010-2015. Annual Imports volume in 2010-2014 marked 11-13 thousand tons (19-22 million USD). Imports slightly shrank to 9 000 tons in 2015 (20.7 million USD). The following countries occupy positions in Georgia’s onion imports: Turkey (40%), Ukraine (30%), Kazakhstan (22%) and others.  According to the research report, in 2014-2015, onion was imported form such countries as Iran, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherlands, Russia and Egypt. It should be noted that Georgia also carries out insignificant exports. The maximum volume of Georgia’s onion exports was recorded in 2013 — 120 000 USD and a major part of Georgia’s onion exports was carried out in Armenia (96.8%).

Meanwhile, the research authors noted that Georgia’s soil and climate are favorable for onion production. Georgia-grown onion is quite resistant to diseases and has good taste characteristics. Onion grows in almost all categories of soil, is a frost-resistant culture and it does not need frequent irrigation. Main production regions are: Kvemo Kartli (70%), Shida Kartli (15%) and Kakheti (10%). In Samtskhe-Javakheti the number of own-grower farmers rise on annual basis. In 2014 onion was grown on 230 hectares, while the space rose to 252 hectares in 2015.

Problems in Onion Production and Recommendations for Their Elimination

Researchers have determined three groups that hinder the chain of onion values: restrictions in production, limited storage capacity and sales problems.

Namely, the region lacks for agriculture equipment for onion production. Many farmers do not have sowing machinery. Consequently, onion is sown by hand. Onion collection and sorting process is also complicated. The sector lacks for workforce: many unemployed citizens in villages do not want to work in agriculture sector. Modern technologies, including drip irrigation system is not actively used. In general, irrigation issue is the sharpest problem in the region.

Medium and major farmers need storehouses with air-conditioning systems, because a major volume of onion emits excessive humidity in the drying process. Consequently, well-organized driers are necessary. Because of difficulties with storing onion, farmers prefer to sell their products as soon as possible. A major part of them has no problems with onion sales, but contacts with mediators are of unofficial character and consequently, instable. Moreover, at this stage, no farmer has contact with supermarkets. Like farmers in many other regions, onion growers in Samtskhe-Javakheti lack for commercialization skills and they cannot carry out products branding. Lack of insurance practices also make obstacles in production. Despite state support, agro business insurance is not widespread among farmers in Georgia.

Currently, farmers in Samtskhe-Javakheti mainly grow potato and  a major part of them does not make seed turnover and therefore, crops capacity is reduced and the soil is damaged. Therefore, it is important to popularize production of other cultures, including onion.

«Onion crop capacity is very low in the Region and therefore, best practices of production should be established. Show land plots should be arranged and farmers should visit foreign countries to get to know experience of foreign farmers, because a major part of farmers grows onion for their own use and their commercialization level is low. It is recommended to promote marketing cooperatives», the researchers noted.