The Journey of the Indian Onion – A diseconomies of scale story

No doubt you have come across the movie documentary “Black Gold” which looks at the global coffee industry focusing on the plight of coffee farmers in Southern Ethiopia. The Indian onion market has similar characteristics and it is the farmers that lose out the most. Here are some of the issues that they have encountered:

* Higher rural wages have pushed up farmer’s costs
* Farms are small and therefore lack potential economies of scale
* The supply chain involves 5 middlemen who take their cut on the way through
* The onion is loaded, sorted or repacked at least 4 times
* Retail prices are double what farmers get
* Poor quality onions get dumped as there is no modern food-processing industry in India where they could be put to use.
* Little stock of onions is held in reserve so prices can vary greatly

Foreign food companies, including Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco, have been keen to make inroads into the Indian market. This would undoubtedly reduce the number of middlemen who take their cut on the way through and the development of modern storage facilites would assist in stabilising onion prices.

Economies Diseconomies

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