Introducing New High Value Crops in Jordan:
The Case of Sweet Onions
, Jay M. Lillywhite§
, Rich Phillips§
, Ra’ed Altabini§§
Objectives of the overall study include:
1. Identifying sources of competition that can influence the successful production and
marketing of sweet onions. These sources of competition include other vegetable crops that
might provide greater net returns per unit of water for Jordanian growers and foreign imports
of onions, both traditional storage onions and low pungency onions.
2 Identifying important agronomic issues related to growing high quality low pungency onions
in Jordan. This analysis includes a comparison of known, successful growing regions in the
United States with current and proposed Jordanian growing regions.
3 Examining cultural aspects of producing onions in the Middle East. Because low pungency
onions are not a traditional crop grown in the region, it is important to identify production
influencers, respected farmers, and leaders within the agricultural community that are willing
to participate in initial low pungency onion production and marketing efforts. These farmers
will serve as ambassadors to other farmers and supply chain participants.
4 Examining cultural aspects of marketing onions in the Middle East. This analysis includes
identifying key consumer groups favorable to purchasing similar products. It will also
include identifying supply chain participants willing to push sweet onions through existing
marketing channels and possibly developing new marketing channels.
5 Identifying existing and potentially new marketing facilities that are needed to supply low
pungency onions to new Middle Eastern consumers. This analysis includes supply chain
development including the development of physical handling and storage facilities as well as
the development of other finance and marketing tools, e.g., contracts.
Jordan is a net importer of onions, producing only about 25% of the onions demanded in the
country. The country imports onions mainly from Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
Jordanian consumers eat a significant amount of onions. It is estimated that per capita
consumption of onions is 7.3 kg per person per year. Demand comes from at-home
consumption as well as use by restaurants. Onions are used in a variety of culturally based
foods including Shawerma (a popular Jordanian sandwich), Mesakhan Chicken, and vegetable
salads which are served with most dishes in Jordanian restaurants. Many Jordanian consumers
are unfamiliar with low pungency onions and it remains to be seen if substituting higher priced,
lower pungency onions for traditionally used pungent onions will be accepted.
Recently, the NMSU and the Badia Research and Development Center (BRDC) teamed up with
one of the country’s leading agricultural producers to investigate growing and marketing low
pungency onions (referred to as “sweet” onions) in Jordan. Because of their high water content,
these onions do not store well and typically sell for higher prices than the more common non-
sweet fresh onions in the market. If these water efficient onions can be successfully produced
and marketed, they will contribute to water savings when substituted for other crops and, at the
same time, provide increased incomes for many of Jordan’s struggling farmers.
Shiek Khalid is an influential Bedouin leader. If he is successful in
profitably growing and marketing sweet onions, as is anticipated,
other growers will soon follow.
The results of the initial fields trials will be publicized in regional
newspapers and a weekly national television program devoted to
agricultural issues. In addition, public field days will be used to
familiarize other farmers with the specifics of growing the crop and
its market potential.
This research was supported and funded by the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station,
USAID/IALC/NMSU/ Jordan Water Basin Survey.
Authors thank Joe Corgan, Eng Mahamad Shahbaz, Eng Nawras Aljazee, Ahmad Al-Rawadgfah,
Mahamad Aun, and Matthew Baca for their contribution and support in this research.
Sweet, low-pungency onions face two primary sources of
competition in Jordan – Competition from existing vegetable crops
grown in the country (including pungent onions) and pungent
onions imported from other countries, primarily Egypt, Turkey,
Saudi Arabia, and Syria.
Based on NMSU budgets and Jordan production data received to
date, it appears that sweet onions can be profitably grown in
Jordan. In addition, the onions require significantly less water than
other crops currently being cultivated, an important factor as the
country’s leadership realizes the impact of water shortages.
It remains to be seen which
diseases, if any, might affect the
in Jordan are similar to
those in New Mexico. Both
regions have similar latitudes,
soil types, and rainfall levels.
crop in Jordan, but researchers
believe these risks will be
similar to those faced in
Jordan has a rich cultural and food heritage. This culture is largely
influenced by the Muslim religion as a vast majority of the
country’s population is Muslim.
Introducing a new product into a consumer group steeped in
tradition may encounter some difficulties. But in the case of sweet
onions, culture and tradition may help to encourage adoption. For
example, Muslims are instructed not to enter the mosque after eating
onions and other “offensive” foods because of their impacts upon a
person’s breath. Initial consumer interviews suggest Jordanians’
perceive sweet onions as having a less offensive smell than
A majority of the vegetable trade conducted in Jordan occurs through
small open-air markets and one centralized vegetable market in
Amman. Before sweet onions can be successfully marketed in the
region more research and supply-chain development must occur.
Infrastructure needs that must be addressed include: physical
handling and storage facilities and efficient transportation. In
addition, market participants will also have to address and develop
marketing tools, e.g., contracts.
Based upon U.S. experience it is suggested that sweet onions need to
be branded and supply controlled in order to maintain a price
premium over pungent onions.
Sweet onions sold in Amman Vegetable Centre
Market – First time locally grown, low pungency
onions sold in centre market.
Initial growing trials prove successful.
BRDC & NMSU Researchers identify sweet onions as
possible new water saving, value-added crop.
Researchers identify the Bedouin grower who is a
community leader and early adopter
Working with onion researchers at NMSU, three New
Mexico varieties of low pungency onion seeds are planted on
Shiek Khalid’s farm.
Market analysis work begins
Conjoint analysis used to
preferences for sweet onions.
Second growing season.
New varieties / additional
Onion growing expansion to
Development of onion supply
chain including organizing
association to serve as single
Water savings on trial farms
documented & projected to
Develop and institute best
Conduct field days where regional farmers can
observe field trial successes and utilize mass
media to publicize results.
Select brand name, devise advertising
strategies, and devise seasonal fixed
§ Dept. of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business ◆ New Mexico State University ◆ Las Cruces, NM 88003 ◆ firstname.lastname@example.org
§ § Jordan Badia Research and Development Centre