Shortages of onions worldwide have forced many countries to hold on to production for their domestic markets, and in Egypt, exporters must wait to sell in Europe

Gehan Mostafa, Sada Global

Gehan Mostafa, Sadat Global

Last year, EU wholesale onion prices increased by more than 400 per cent as global shortages, the result of a variety of factors including floods in Pakistan, droughts in North Africa and the war in Ukraine, forced producing countries to prioritise domestic supplies.

Last August, farmers in the Indian state of Maharashtra protested against the central government’s decision to increase export duties on onions to 40 per cent to restrict overseas sales. Domestic prices fell, while in Europe the scarcity even threatened a knock-on increase in prices of other vegetables.

At this time of crisis, Egypt stood out for its stability in onion supplies, with production rising and exports flowing. According to official statistics authority Capmas, Egyptian onion exports rose by 95.9 per cent in the first half of 2023.

In October, however, even Egypt had introduced a three-month ban on onion exports, which has since been extended until 30 March.

“There is a shortage worldwide,” explained Gehan Mostafa, chairman and CEO of Egyptian exporter Sadat Global, “so every country is keeping their own production for themselves. This is the first time we have faced a shortage of onions in Egypt. It is the first time exports have been stopped to cover the market.”

According to Mostafa, exporters will have to wait until the government announces that exports can resume, as it did earlier this year for potatoes. “Potatoes are already there, and a lot of people are asking for them,” she told Fruitnet. “This year there should be good demand for potatoes in Europe.”

Fears of a potato shortage won’t be eased by last month’s report from EastFruit that potato prices in Ukraine are currently four times higher than they were last year and still rising.

The most recent price increase was due to a decline in supplies from local farms in Ukraine, according to EastFruit, with a lack of long-term storage facilities forcing Ukrainian potato farmers to sell out in the first half of the season.

In Central Asia, abundant onion stocks have reportedly resulted in low prices, as companies seek to shift volumes ahead of the new harvest.