Burkina onions : Perhaps we should play the quality card !

In the north of Niger the food crisis has worsened as a result of the difficulties in the onion market - one of the twin peaks feeding the country’s economy. Many who fled into the country from Libya have gone into onion cultivation, which has caused a surplus production. The result is that the price has dropped from 15 000 to 2000 CFA francs (Radio France Internationale of March 9th 2012). Niger produces 7 times the output of Burkina. As growers on both sides of the border have chosen the same variety (Violet Galmi, which has a good yield per hectare), it comes as no surprise that the excess production of Niger also shatters onion prices in Burkina. Therefore: ”How protect onion sales in both Burkina and Niger?”

It so happens that precisely ten years ago (April 2002) we were trying to find an answer to that question. Going back to our records, here is what we wrote:

Au Sanguié (près de Koudougou) un jardin d'oignons.Au Sourou, la récolte des oignonsOnion market garden in Sanguié, near Koudougou Onion harvest in Sourou ”A few months ago we started an inquiry among market gardeners around Koudougou. Thanks to them there is a great variety of vegetables on the market. If you sometimes think that the price is high, go and see the growers at work in their garden. You will realise that it takes quite a lot of labour to produce one kg of carrots or onions.

They will explain things to you, in particular the difficulties they have in getting a good price for their produce. When they go to the market in Koudougou and have not been able to sell everything by lunchtime, they must give things away at a very low price, below their production cost. They may sell a bag of onions
for 5 000 CFA francs, in spite of the 10 000 they had hoped for and this because there were fewer buyers than sellers on that particular day!

The other day as I passed by Boromo a woman handed me onions she had on sale. I asked her where they came from, thinking that she would tell me ”from Koudougou ”! But she told me
”From Niger”. This greatly surprised me. When growers in Koudougou are unable to sell their onions at a good price, how come that those of Niger sell their onions in Burkina?

Back in Koudougou I went to inquire at the markets of Koudougou. There was one trader with a truckload of onions from Niger. He told us: ” It its true that Burkina onions, especially those from Koudougou, are better than those of Niger. They have more flavour. A few Burkina onions suffice to give flavour to a whole dish. Cooks (and customers !) prefer onions grown in Burkina.

There is just one hitch: Onions from Niger cost less!”

Aujourd'hui, les oignons du Burkina ressemblent à ceux du Niger !Cette année, ces sacs de 120 kg d'oignons se négociaient autour de 5 000 FCFAToday onions grown in Burkina look quite similar to those from Niger This year 120 kg bags of onions would sell for around 5000 CFA francs Thus our trader comes to Koudougou in order to add Burkina onions to his load from Niger. They are smaller and darker, probably a variety called Garango onion or bissa onion, which was grown in Koukouldi near Koudougou in 1961. He opens all his bags and mixes onions from the two countries, laying the Burkina variety on top. Then he travels on with his truck to Bobo-Dioulasso and Bouaké in Ivory Coast.

We therefore went to Bobo-Dioulasso to continue our inquiry. There we saw the same practice: traders mixing Nigerien onions with onions from Sourou (another province of Burkina), and then going off to Ivory Coast.

At the end of this inquiry I would like to put the following questions to growers in Burkina:

1)Do you know that onions from Niger are sold here in Burkina and that they are less expensive in spite of the transport cost?

2) Do you know that many traders mix onions from Niger with onions from Burkina and sell them in Ivory Coast?

3) Do you know that cooks and customers prefer Burkina onions rather than those from Niger?

The strength of Nigerien onions: their price

The strength of Burkinabè onions: their quality, they taste better and keep longer

Since Burkina onions are of a brighter red and smaller in size than the Nigerien variety, they are relatively easy to distinguish. My last question:

4) Could not the producers in Burkina get together and organise themselves in order to offer consumers good quality onions?

Why not sell Burkina onions in see through net bags (like those used for potatoes) with labels containing a quality guarantee, harvesting date, origin (place of prouduction) and weight? They would come with an invoice, a guarantee from the trader for his merchandise.

Market gardeners recognised as producers of onions of good quality, would be entitled to use special labels, so called quality labels. They could for example read: ”Onions from Burkina Faso – Quality controlled and guaranteed.”

Surely such onions would sell well in Burkina and Buouaké and even in Abijan. »

(Source « Les amis de la terre » n° 11)

Koudougou April 12, 2012
Maurice Oudet
Director, SEDELAN

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