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Dutch onion exports to West Africa show continued growth

02 February 2013

According to figures published on Freshplaza.com in November 2012, total Dutch onion exports grew by 5% (from 610 to 640 million kg) in the first 9 months of 2012 compared to the corresponding period in 2011. However, there were considerable differences in export trends between markets. Exports to fellow EU members fell by 17%, while exports to non-EU countries grew by 21%.

Dutch onion exports to the five main West African markets – Senegal, Guinea, Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone – grew by 19.1%. The importance of the West African market to Dutch onion exporters increased from 24.4% of total exports in the first three quarters of 2011 to 27.7% in the first three quarters of 2012. Within this trend, while Dutch onion exports to Senegal fell by 4%, exports to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Mauritania increased by 79, 69 and 48% respectively, with exports to Côte d’Ivoire increasingly marginally, by 2%. In the first three quarters of 2012, export volumes to Guinea and Mauritania combined overtook export volumes destined for Senegal (having been equivalent to only 59% of the volumes exported to Senegal in the corresponding period in 2011).

These trends explain why, in October 2012, Dutch onion exporters highlighted the high demand for onions in Africa.  Although imported high-quality onions continue to dominate the markets in western coastal towns, analysis financed by USAID, published on Agribizafrica.org, suggests that ‘if Sahelian onions could be more competitive, they would capture a larger market share; growers and traders would receive better and more consistent prices; consumers would have a wider choice, thus satisfying both their tastes and budgets; and intra-regional trade would increase.’  This, according to the online report, will require better quality and grading of onions, improved packaging of onions and an expansion of onion production and storage to ensure a year-round supply. USAID is currently supporting initiatives to adapt production to market demands, improve packaging and storage to reduce spoilage and extend the growing season. Initiatives to link producers with buyers across the region are also being supported.

The other major development in 2012 reported in the Freshplaza.com report was the sevenfold expansion of Dutch onion exports to Brazil.

Dutch onion exports for selected countries, January to September 2011–12 (tonnes)

Country 2011 2012 % change
Grand total 609,987 639,966 +5
EU27 265,202 224,386 -17
Non-EU 344,785 418,580 +21
Total 5 West African countries 148,928 177,401 +19.1
Senegal 69,251 66,537 -4
Guinea 18,979 33,934 +79
Mauritania 21,995 32,617 +48
Côte d’Ivoire 31,562 32,274 +2
Sierra Leone 7,141 12,039 +69

Source: extracted from table in Freshplaza.com, 15 November 2012 (below)

Editorial comment

Despite the introduction by the Senegalese authorities of an onion import ban for the period from 1 April to 31 August (see Agritrade article ‘ "Oversupply" on Senegalese onion markets sees prices plummet’, 25 October 2011), imports of Dutch onions have fallen only marginally. This suggests that there may be substance to local reports of traders stockpiling onions prior to the introduction of seasonal restrictions, and has led to calls for the Senegalese government to introduce a complete ban on onion imports for 3 years (see Agritrade article ‘ Debate on onion tariffs in Senegal intensifies amid onion glut on West A...’, 6 August 2012). The prospect of such policy measures may account for Dutch onion exporters’ market diversification efforts in West Africa.

The process of West African market diversification would suggest a need for coordinated regional onion tariffs, if government efforts to promote onion production are to succeed. The wider experience in West Africa highlights the need to both enhance the underlying competitiveness of production, by improving productivity, and strengthen the functioning of local onion supply chains, by improving linkages between producers, traders and retailers. The creation of a system of real-time data collection and dissemination on both production and demand for onions, that links up producers with markets across the region, could potentially facilitate regional trade flows. The experience gained in establishing and maintaining such market information systems elsewhere in Africa could offer some useful lessons in this regard (see Agritrade article ‘ Horticulture development programmes under way’, 28 August 2009).

The large-scale expansion of Dutch onion exports to Brazil has taken place on the basis of more competitive trans-Atlantic shipping rates. If this trend continues, it could potentially open up a huge new market for Dutch onion exports in the coastal areas of Brazil and Argentina, which may ease competitive pressures on West African onion markets.

However, spillover from increased Dutch onion exports to Latin American markets could eventually increase competition on Caribbean onion markets.


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