Bangladesh takes onion sale online to curb price spirals

The government has opened an online sale of onions amid a spike in prices of the kitchen staple on the back of a ban on exports by India.

Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi virtually inaugurated the programme on Sunday as part of the efforts to cool down spiralling prices of the commodity in the country. 

Initially, the customers will be able to buy onions from a select few shops online.

The Trading Corporation Bangladesh or TCB has been selling onions at Tk 30 per kg in the open market from Sept 13. Customers could buy a maximum of 2 kg of onions while waiting in long queues in front of TCB trucks.

The prices of the root vegetable skyrocketed once again after India announced a ban on onion exports earlier this month. On Sept 18, retailers were selling Indian onions for Tk 60-70 per kg, while local onions were priced at Tk 80.

Under the online scheme, a customer can buy up to 3 kg onions for Tk 36 per kg, with a maximum delivery charge of Tk 30, according to the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh or e-CAB. It means 3 kg of onions will cost Tk 138 in total.

The online sale of onions will begin on a trial basis in Dhaka and Chattogram.

“TCB can sell onions from 300 to 500 trucks but to ensure sales on a larger scale, we took the initiative to sell the commodity online through e-CAB. There can be some hiccups in the beginning but it will ease gradually. We’ll expand the programme further in time,” said Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi. 

“Many people are unable to wait in front of the TCB trucks due to time constraints or for other reasons. We hope they’ll be able to buy onions easily through this initiative. This time, the quantity of onions for sale will be increased. Online sales will kick off at the big cities and then expand across the country. You must ensure that people are not cheated.” 

The government is bringing in onions from Turkey and Myanmar by next month to allay any fears of a shortage, according to the minister.

Onions will be delivered to people’s doorstep through this initiative as retailers with the adequate delivery capacity being made the dealers under the 'pilot project,' said Commerce Secretary Md Jafar Uddin. “We’ll take action against those defying the rules.”

“Those who feel uncomfortable with buying onions from TCB trucks will be able to purchase it through this programme,” said TCB Chairman Brig Gen Md Ariful Hasan.

In future, the customers will be able to buy a maximum of 5 kg of onions online, said Jahangir Alam Shovon, general manager of e-CAB.

The online sale will begin on Sunday through five dealers in Dhaka and Chattogram. A customer can place only one order each week, Shovon said. The authorities will check the mobile number and address to ensure a customer does not exceed that limit.

In the initial phase, eight dealers will sell onions online in Dhaka and Chattogram, the authorities said. Chaldal.com, Shwapno online, Sindabad.com, Sabjibazar.com and Jachai.com have been chosen as dealers by TCB.

Bdsoul and Ekshop will be added to the list later followed by more shops as the demand grows.

Each shop will receive half a tonne of onion each day and can collect onions from the TCB every three days. Online shops are initially targetting sales of at least 10,000 tonnes of onion online.

The dealership is given after scrutinising their warehouse, delivery capacity, e-commerce website and also recommendation from e-CAB.

The commerce ministry, TCB and e-CAB have drawn a policy or SOP which must be followed by all companies.

e-CAB President Shomi Kaiser, General Secretary Muhammad Abdul Wahed Tomal and high ups from the Commerce Ministry spoke on the occasion.