EastFruit analysts note that both local onions and potatoes currently remain in a harsh deficit in Georgia. Strong local demand is satisfied with the imports. The next major harvest of potatoes begins in June in the Kvemo-Kartli region, which produces 20-30% of the country’s annual potato output. There might be some early supplies in May, but usually, the volumes are not large. Stakeholders from the region report that many farmers have planted onions instead of potatoes.
Earlier EastFruit estimated that Georgia would need to import at least 12 000 tonnes of potatoes from February till the start of the new season. Trade data from March 2023 reveals that 11 000 tonnes have already been imported since January. The deficit of potatoes has resulted in huge volumes of imports: since September 2022, the country has imported more than 24 000 tonnes of potatoes – the highest volume in at least ten years. The strong need for imports is a result of a poor local harvest in Autumn 2022, which in turn was a consequence of adverse weather.
Imports of onions are not as extraordinary as the imports of potatoes. Georgia has imported 14 000 tonnes of onions since September 2022, which is quite close to the ten-year average of 13 000 tonnes in the same months. There is a major reason: unlike potatoes, onion shortage is more of a global issue than a local one. Interestingly, onion imports in March 2023 were four times lower than in March 2022 and February 2023. Georgian importers find it hard to replace a major onion supplier Turkey, which is restricting exports in order to stabilize prices in its own market.
As a result of the deficits, wholesale prices for potatoes and onions have been significantly higher this time than in previous seasons. Since mid-February, prices for onions have dropped, but this is a result of the reduced quality and caliber of the imported onions.
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As local stakeholders have revealed to EastFruit, for the upcoming harvest (expected in June 2023) many farmers in the Kvemo-Kartli region have switched from planting potatoes to onions. The reason lies in the prices. Farmers saw that last year, onions from the June harvest did better than potatoes. Moreover, wholesale prices for onions look very strong if we count out the price drop that was related to quality and caliber. Retail prices have skyrocketed. According to the official statistics, Georgian consumers had to pay 111% more for a kilogram of onions in March 2023 compared to March 2022. In the same period, the retail price for potatoes has gone up by 50%.
While quantitative estimates of the plantings are unavailable, we can still infer that as farmers switch to onions significant potato imports will be needed in the new season. There will also be significant negative pressure on onion prices, as the onion supply increases.
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