تحقیقات جهانی بازار بورس

Speculative crops: Gambling on the onion in rural India

This paper examines the political ecology of onions in India, one of the largest producer countries in the world. Although the cost of producing onions is significant, an increasing number of farmers are drawn to its cultivation. Onion prices are, however, highly volatile, fluctuating wildly within the span of a few days, making it a notorious gamble on the market. As a kitchen staple and the second highest consumed vegetable in India, it is also a politically significant crop – high retail rates are held responsible for the fall of governments, and are met with price controls, storage limits, and export restrictions. Yet, in the expectation of spectacular gains, farmers try their luck with its cultivation, investing in inputs, storing and sorting, hoping and waiting for the perfect time to sell. Building on ethnographic fieldwork in the Malwa region of western Madhya Pradesh, I consider how the specific socio-ecological qualities of onion cultivation, harvesting and storage – from high yields to limited storability and the seasonality of cultivation – shape its speculative possibilities. This research finds that it is largely privileged classes and castes of farmers who have access to the ‘means of speculation’ and thereby, to spectacular profits from onion cultivation, leading to the worsening of social inequalities among farmers of this crop. Broadly, this article theorizes the onion as a ‘speculative crop’, one that symbolizes the precarity and possibilities of Indian agriculture in an age of intensive cash-cropping and climate change.

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