India’s Costly Onions Make Economists Weep

Slow economic growth and the depreciating rupee burden consumers

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India is preparing to import onions for the first time in two years as a surge in prices threatens to trigger a backlash against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before next years elections.

The skyrocketing price of onions in India is enough to bring tears to your eyes. Thanks to inflation and the weakening rupee, onion costs have increased by up to 500% in a month in some parts of the country, CNNMoney reports.

Demand for the root vegetable is so high that a sale on onions on deal-of-the-day website Groupon crashed the site last week. Onions are a staple in Indian cooking but they’ve also come to symbolize a myriad of problems plaguing the country, and the public’s patience with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is wearing thin.

Droughts, the country’s dysfunctional political system and the lack of economic reforms all play their part, economists say. Onion harvests rot on the way to market because of delays on poorly maintained roads, and by the time the crop reaches the end consumer, prices can be twice the amount the farmer was paid.

Government efforts to boost foreign direct investment to India have failed to make an impact so far, but the appointment of Raghuram Rajan as head of the Reserve Bank of India last week has investors hopeful, and the new chief announced major reforms in his first day on the job.