By Wilfred Sanya
If you have bought food items at your neighbourhood kiosk, open market or inside a supermarket lately, you may have noticed something: the price of onions, or shallots, has shot up.
Onions are a key feature in most kitchens and therefore are on most grocery lists.
While sh1,000 would get you a palmful of onions in the past, it’s different now. You will have to make do with only three tiny pieces of the bulb for the same amount in most outlets.
So, what is behind this latest hike in onion prices?
Traders at various markets in Kampala seem to have an idea.
To begin with, like with many foodstuffs, scarcity in supply translates to a higher price, with the buyer bearing the brunt.
Tibita Kisambira, a trader at Nakawa market in Kampala, blames the weather.
She told New Vision on Tuesday that Mbale, one of the leading producers of onions in Uganda, is experiencing bad weather and landslides.
This, she believes, is hurting the supply.
Right now, a bowl of onions ranges from sh10,000 to sh20,000 depending on the size of the bulbs.
Retailers are selling a medium-sized onion at sh500 while a big one goes for sh1,000.
Just like Kisambira, Maria Ssemakula, a wholesaler at Nakawa market, said the business of onion fluctuates depending on the weather.
She said onions from western Uganda are more expensive due to transport costs and at the moment, the supply from Mbale in Uganda’s east is low due to landslides.
Betty Nabirye is a retailer in Kireka, Kira municipality in Wakiso district. She said the business of selling onions is becoming hard and that she has resorted to dealing in other food items.
She now buys fewer amounts of onions. She sells one at sh500. Previously, she would sell six onions at sh1,000.
Nabirye said she used to buy her onions at Kireka Farmers Market, but due to the railway construction, traders have since reallocated. It means the trucks that used to bring in onions from Mbale are no longer coming in.
She feels this is a threat to their business.
“Today transporters are no longer interested in the onion business. We do not know what might happen if this continues for more months.”
David Kato, another trader Nakawa market, said the shortage of onions might have been caused by the prolonged dry season amid a high local and foreign market demand.
“Most of the red onions are cheaply imported from Kenya,” he said.
But with the political instability witnessed through weekly protests in Uganda’s eastern neighbour, Kato believes that is part to blame.
He said traders bringing this merchandise might be fearing the protests happening in Kenya.
It remains unclear that lies ahead, but with the significance of onions or shallots in many people’s kitchen, the pinch in the pocket will continue to be felt.