New Delhi: India’s onion export has reported a decline of over 31 percent in 2010-11 at 12.89 million tonnes in comparison to the previous year due to damage to the crop and ban on shipment in the later part following soaring of domestic prices of the kitchen staple.

India had exported 18.73 million tonnes of onion in 2009-10 financial year.

The sources attributed the dip in 2010-11 to damage to the crop due to unseasonal rains in main producing regions of Maharashtra and Gujarat in October-November last year.

It was also due to government imposing ban on its export since last week of December, 2010 in view of soaring prices of the bulb.

Onion prices had skyrocketed to Rs 70-85 a kg in retail in the national capital and other parts of the country around last week of December 2010 forcing the government to take stern measures including first suspending its export and later prohibiting it completely.

Skyrocketing onion prices had pushed food inflation to a high level with opposition parties making hue and cry over the issue and forcing the UPA government on the back foot.

The ban continued for nearly two months before the government lifted it on February 17, 2011.

Sources in the agri-cooperative NAFED, the nodal agency for contracting onion exports, said that the shipment started declining from middle of October last year when the unseasonal rains caused large scale damage to the crops in Nashik region of Maharashtra. Prior to the ban, India had exported 11.58 lakh tonnes of onions mainly to gulf countries, Sri Lanka and Malaysia during April-November of 2010-11 fiscal.

Thanks to a bumper rabi onion crop and lifting of ban on exports, shipment of the important veggie has picked up in the 2011-12 season, NAFED sources said.

While lifting ban, Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in a bid to assure against possibility of price shooting again, had decided to allow shipments of onions at a Minimum Export Price (MEP) of USD 600 (about Rs 28,000) per tonne.

Owing to high MEP of onion, shipment of the bulb from India dropped to as low as about 10 per cent as compared to last year, a development which helped onion exporters of Pakistan, China and Iran having lower MEP.

Indian onion traders contracted only 27,300 tonnes of the root vegetable for exports from February 17 (when the government lifted the ban) to March 23 this year, sources in agri-cooperative NAFED, the main agency for contracting onion export, said.

The country had exported 2.81 lakh tonnes of onion during the corresponding period a year ago, they said.