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Senegal refines its onion import regime

03 June 2013

According to articles in the regional press, strong growth since 2003 in the Senegalese onion sector has seen production rise from 40,000 to 240,000 tonnes. However, Senegal continues to be an important market for EU onion exports. Senegal’s imports from the EU increased by 58% between 2007 and 2011, before falling in 2012 by 8.4% to 133,328 tonnes, some 17.2% of the EU’s total onion exports of 773,265 tonnes.

The decrease in Senegal’s imports from the EU may in part be attributable to the effects of a seasonal import ban that has been in place for a number of years. However, questions have been raised over the effectiveness of the seasonal import restrictions, with reports of stockpiling of imported onions occurring prior to the implementation of seasonal restrictions and their gradual release through the closed import period. Press reports in April 2013 highlighted the difficulties faced by Senegalese onion producers in obtaining profitable prices for their onions.

In order to address this issue, the 2013 starting date for seasonal import restrictions was brought forward from April to February. In addition, the government decided in April to introduce more stringent measures at ports to prevent the import of containers containing onions, as well as announcing that it would “facilitate” the granting of import authorisations to “importers who commit to promoting the marketing of local production”.

Linked to these import measures, the government of Senegal is supporting investment in post-harvest infrastructure, with the building of a major storage and conservation warehouse in Dagana Region, with support from the EU. This will allow producers to store their production and sell it during low season (i.e. periods when onions are not being harvested).

Editorial comment

In June 2012, the Senegalese inter-professional organisation of the onion industry called for 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 government has, however, opted for a more sophisticated import control policy.

The linking of import licence allocations to the promotion of local production appears to parallel the successful use of import licensing arrangements in Namibia. In the Namibian horticulture sector, this forms part of a wider scheme, which includes a restricted-access market information database for producers, retailers and traders. By 2011, this scheme had seen the share of locally produced Namibian fruit and vegetables increase to 37.5% of national commercial consumption from a mere 7% when the scheme was launched in 2004.

The critical challenge in Senegal will hinge upon effective implementation of the new import regime and the development of broader initiatives to strengthen domestic onion supply chains. Strengthening domestic supply chains will require the enhancement of dialogue between producers, traders and retailers, which in turn will require a strengthening of producers’ organisations. It will also require targeted investments in overcoming bottlenecks in the supply chain. Current investments in storage facilities need to be seen in this context. Strengthening domestic onion supply chains is essential if shortfalls in national production and marketing of quality onions are not to undermine the more sophisticated application of trade policy instruments.

Given the scope for cross-border smuggling, large increases in EU onion exports to neighbouring countries pose challenges not only to Senegalese onion exports, but also to onion producers in Niger (see Agritrade article ‘ Dutch onion exports to West Africa show continued growth’, 2 February 2013). The neighbouring coastal markets of Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Benin and Togo account for 70% of Niger’s onion production, and increasing EU onion exports to non-Senegalese West African markets could disrupt this trade.

This suggest a need for a concerted regional policy response to challenges posed by rising EU onion exports (see Agritrade article ‘ Debate on onion tariffs in Senegal intensifies amid onion glut on West A...’, 6 August 2012).


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