‘Farmers feel the brunt of onion importation’

A market vendor compares the size of an onion produced by local farmers and a huge bulb from an undisclosed origin at the Marikina City Public Market on Monday, January 23, 2023. PHOTO BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE

A FARMERS' group on Saturday said that the onion farmers feel the brunt of importation as flooding of imported bulbs failed to bring down the retail prices of onions in the local markets.

In a radio interview, Onion Farmers Philippines Administrator James Ramos added that the depressed prices of onions are felt in Nueva Ecija.

Ramos noted that the farmgate price of white onions ranged between P70 and P80 per kilo and red onions between P160 and P180 per kilo.

“We don't simply feel the effect. It strikes right through the bones. It is only now that the farmer can earn after suffering losses in the past years,” Ramos added.

At least 3,500 metric tons (MT) of imported onions arrived before the Jan. 27, 2023 deadline set by the Department of Agriculture (DA) on the importation of the bulbs.

Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban allowed the importation of 21,060 MT of onions to bring down the retail prices of the bulbs.

Importers only availed of 5,000 MT of the allocation.

“We don't know why the DA decided to import during the harvest season. Last December (2022), the DA was supposed to import as there was no supply at that time. The cold storage facilities were empty but they did import. They decided to import now, despite the fact that we are already in the harvest season,” Ramos noted.

Based on the monitoring of the DA, the retail prices of onions remain high between P150 and P310 per kilo.

Ramos expressed fear that the farmgate price of onions will further go down with the peak of harvest starting this February.

“By next week, farmgate price could further go down as all the onion farmers in Mindoro, Pangasinan and Nueva Ecija are expected to harvest, and the imported onions compete with the local harvest,” he noted.

According to Ramos, if the farmgate price of red onions reaches P100 per kilo, it will only be a break-even for the farmers amid the high cost of raw materials, including insecticide, pesticide, fertilizer and labor.

“Every year, we feel that the DA authorizes the importation when the harvest is ongoing. It is killing the farmers,” he added.

Ramos added that the DA also failed to consult the farmers before the importation was made.

“There was none (consultation). Supposed to be, they will talk to us before they approve import permits. But then, there was suddenly news that the importation was approved, and the importation was made,” Ramos noted.

At the same time, Ramos expressed doubts about whether the government is serious in helping the onion farmers with the announcement on the implementation of the Optimization and Resiliency in the Onion Industry Network (Orion) Program.

“How can they revitalize the onion industry if what they are doing is killing the farmers? Who will have the courage to allocate capital if this happens during harvest, when importation floods the markets,” Ramos added.

According to Ramos, it was only during the time of former Agriculture secretary Manny Piñol when the importation of onions stopped.

“During the time of secretary Pinol, the revenues of the farmers improved but after that importation resumed,” he said.

At the same time, Ramos said that the government should provide more cold storage facilities to onion farmers.

“During the administration of former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr., we had the FTI (Food Terminal Inc.) that was built as cold storage for farmers, but it was sold by the previous administration,” Ramos added.

Ramos said that the DA should also provide subsidies such as fertilizer and seeds.

“We hope that the government can help us to bring down our capital so that farmers will also earn,” he said.

According to Ramos, they have no control over the retail price of the bulbs as the traders decide on the cost.

“We supply onions in Divisoria and from there, we have no control because of the layers before the bulbs reach the consumers,” he noted.

Ramos said Nueva Ecija produces at least 60,000 MT to 70,000 MT of onions.

“This is only for Nueva Ecija, it does not include Mindoro, which is the second-largest producer of onions,” Ramos said.

He said that the peak harvest starts in February until April.

“First week of May, the stocks are already in the cold storage. The stocks supply the country's requirement from May to December,” he explained.

Hontiveros meets with onion farmers

Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros on Thursday, February 5 visited the town of San Jose this week to meet with the onion growers of Occidental Mindoro and discuss concerns on the onion crisis and other agricultural crises.

“Support our farmers. This is the key to filling up the supply that the whole nation needs. Let us prioritize the welfare of the farmers instead of the interest of the traders or importers,” she said.

Hontiveros was joined by former senator and presidential assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan.

During the consultation, affected farmers of Mamburao and Bulalacao in Oriental Mindoro conveyed to Hontiveros a number of concerns, including the insufficiency of cold storage facilities, which contributes to their harvest and revenue losses.

The farmers also stated that the onion price should not fall below P100 per kilogram for them to recover their capital.

Some of them sold their produce for as low as P8, hindering their capacity to earn a decent income.

Hontiveros then urged the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to develop new cold storage facilities in Mindoro, Nueva Ecija, Ilocos and Pangasinan to halt these losses and aid farmers in obtaining higher prices for their produce.

“We should give farmers what they need. Before the Senate starts with the budget hearings, the DA and DTI should come out with plans on how our farmers can have cold storage facilities. This is a big help not only for the farmers, but for the consumers as well because with the facilities in place, a sudden rise in prices can be avoided,” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros also noted that the country can also adopt the practice in India where the government provides concessional financing so the private sector will build more cold storage facilities.

This way, she stated, the small farmers can be prioritized and the investment will happen in the first years even if the facility utilization may be low toward the end of the year.

She also pointed out that a microfinance program is essential so that farmers without cash on hand to pay for cold storage facilities are not compelled to sell their produce at a much lower price.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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