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 • These spoiled onions are mostly purchased by food vendors
• These spoiled onions are mostly purchased by food vendors

Onion traders struggle with losses, as Niger crisis leads to spoilage

Traders at Accra's Adjen Kotoku and Agbogbloshie onion markets are dealing with substantial losses as produce delays from Niger have resulted in significant quantities of onions spoiling, reports Gloria Apprey.

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The aftermath of this investment loss has forced traders to reduce prices for spoiled onions while raising prices for fresh ones, in an attempt to recoup initial investments.

A middlewoman, Mudrakatu Yakubu, who operates at Adjen Kotoku market, shared her plight to The Mirror.

She now sells medium-sized baskets of spoiled onions for GH¢150, while fresh ones are priced at GH¢300. Just a month ago, the same basket was going for GH¢150 or GH¢200.

These spoiled onions are mostly purchased by food vendors who use them in dishes like shito (pepper sauce) and stews.

This unfortunate situation has arisen in the wake of a military coup in Niger just four weeks ago, which led neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Togo, and Benin to close their borders.

As Ghana heavily relies on onion imports, truckloads of produce have become stranded at these borders, severely disrupting the supply chain.

This mismatch between demand and supply has caused prices to soar by over 100 per cent.
For instance, at markets like Makola and Agbogbloshie, the price of three or four small-sized onions has increased from GH¢1 to GH¢3, while three large-sized onions that were once GH¢5 are now pegged at GH¢10. However, at the wholesale onion market Adjen Kotoku , six moderately sized onions are sold for GH¢10.

Sacks (kotoku) of fresh onions now sold at GH¢1,700

Some traders and residents at the Adjen Kotoku area also complained about the bad road network, which affects transportation to the market. 

At the Makola market, a trader known as 'Gabba' lamented about a shrinking customer base due to high prices.

To attract buyers, Gabba now employs vocal marketing tactics, promising abundant onions for GH¢1, but he actually sells three big-sized onions for GH¢10.

Gabba explained that he buys about 63-kilogramme sack of onions at Agbogbloshie market, with prices ranging from GH¢1,200 to GH¢1,500 based on size and quality. The cost of a 63-kilogramme sack of fresh onions at Adjen Kotoku and Agbogbloshie has risen significantly to GH¢1,500 from GH¢800.

Tijani Abdulai, an importer at the Adjen Kotoku market, recounted his setbacks.

He spends close to GH¢20,000 on import duties to bring around 250 sacks of onions into the country, distributing them for sale. Due to border closures, he ordered only 20 bags, of which about eight bags spoiled due to delays.

Discussing alternatives, Abdulai noted that he now imports from Nigeria and occasionally sells Ghanaian produce from the Volta Region.

He also mentioned other methods, he referred to as 'corners corners,' to obtain his produce adding that he sold Ghanaian onions at GH¢1,300 a sack (kotoku).

A trader from the Agbogbloshie market, who gave his name as Mustafa, explained that onion cultivation in Ghana was primarily concentrated in the Volta Region.

He attributed the insufficient production to financial constraints, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of large-scale farming equipment. 

He noted that Ghana's smaller, red-skinned onions with less flesh were less preferred compared to imported varieties.

                             Kafui Ego, Ho-based onion trader

Onion prices in the Ho Central Market, also known as Asigame, located in the Volta Region, have doubled since the military takeover in Niger on July 26 of this year, Alberto Mario Noretti, reports from Ho.

Prior to the coup, eight pieces of onions were sold for GH¢10 in the market, but as of Tuesday, August 22, 2024, they were being sold for GH¢20 when The Mirror visited the market.

This sharp increase in prices can be attributed to the fact that supplying trucks are now stranded in Niger, leading to the spoiling of onions. Unlike before when onions were transported to Lome in Togo or Accra, traders now have to make a much longer journey to Niger to purchase onions. 

According to a trader, Kafui Ego, this new route involves travelling to Lome first and then proceeding to border towns in Niger through Burkina Faso or Benin, a journey that takes around two days.

While the traders mentioned that the soldiers in Niger were friendly and the journey was typically smooth, it came at a high cost and brought added stress. Moreover, the onions purchased in Niger were largely rotten, exacerbating the shortage of the vegetable in Ho.

“The inconvenience of converting the Ghana Cedi to the CFA Franc was another factor affecting onion prices. Before the coup, one bag of onions was purchased for CFA Franc 50 (GH¢1,200), but now it costs CFA 75 (GH¢1,600) at the border,” Kafui stated.

Another trader, Rejoice Homenyo, expressed concern about losing their livelihood, as many traders were now selling old stockpiles of onions that were rapidly perishing.

 Zaara Mohammed, a vegetables seller at the Fadama Market, displays onions for sale 

The large onion harvests in Denu and Anloga in the Volta Region had already been purchased by traders from other cities, leaving a limited supply at high prices. “Additionally, the darker species of onions from Denu and Anloga were not preferred by consumers in the region.”

The traders lamented that the deployment of ECOWAS troops in Niger would further hinder the onion business in Ho, as the borders would now be completely closed, with no friendly soldiers to assist traders.

The Ho Central Market, which houses around 60 onion sellers, longs for a return to normal days when they didn't have to travel extensively to purchase onions for their customers.

The Volta Regional Director of Agriculture, William Dzamefe, attributed the current onion shortage to unforeseen circumstances and noted that many farmers focused on producing more tomatoes this season.
In recent days, smaller roadside onion sellers have been forced to shut down their businesses due to the challenges caused by the skyrocketing prices and sourcing difficulties.

In a surprising turn of events, onion sales are experiencing a boom in Wa, the capital of the Upper West Region, contrary to earlier predictions of shortages. 

However, the soaring success of the market is marred by the depreciation of the cedi, which has impacted onion prices, reports Emmanuel Modey, WA.

The Mirror's investigations revealed that the traders are sourcing their vegetables, including onions, from the market in Leo, a commercial town in Burkina Faso located near Tumu in the Upper West Region.
A vegetable seller at Fadama Market in Wa, Zaara Mohammed, revealed that onion prices are subject to the fluctuating exchange rate of the CFA Franc. 

She explained that the cost of a maximum bag of onions, which was GH₵ 950.00 approximately three weeks ago, has surged to GH₵ 1,200.00 due to the currency fluctuation. 

Despite this challenge, Zaara noted that the open border remained a facilitator for trade between the two countries, aiding the smooth movement of goods and people.

     Many traders are now selling old stockpiles of onions that were rapidly perishing

Zaara also added that the retail prices of vegetables, particularly onions, continue to range from GH₵ 2.00 upwards. 

On the transportation front, a driver who shuttles traders between Wa and Leo, Ahmed Sani, noted that their two-day journeys for business are hampered by the instability of the cedi. 

“This instability limits the purchasing power of traders and subsequently affects the availability of commodities such as onions on the market.”

A consumer perspective came from Perpetual Addah, a kenkey seller at SSNIT Flat in Wa. She pointed out that their business heavily relies on onions for preparing the accompanying pepper used with kenkey. 

“The continuous fluctuations of the cedi have trickled down to escalate production costs, inevitably impacting the kenkey's market price.”

In light of these challenges, all three interviewees have urged the government to intervene in order to stabilise the cedi against the CFA Franc.

Their hope is that such measures would ensure a consistent supply of onions and other vegetables that are readily available in the Burkina Faso markets.

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