Onion imports in December could leave farmers in tears–Sen. Imee

Onion farmers may face a bleak Christmas if government allows the importation of onions in the midst of the year-end local onion harvest in December, Sen. Imee Marcos warned on Thursday.

In a news statement, Marcos said any onion importation this month may “leave low farm-gate prices unsolved.”

She pointed out that local onion farmers in at least eight provinces face a bleak Christmas if the government’s plan to import the crop coincides with the farmers December harvests.

Marcos explained that farmers in Regions 1 to 3 are ready to harvest by the second week of December, particularly in Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Batanes, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya and Tarlac.

He added that “more than 43 percent of red onion harvests in the next three months will take place in December, with Mindoro’s harvests to follow in January,” citing the Bureau of Plant Industry’s (BPI) November monitoring report on onions both planted and stored in previous months.

The senator cited a report showing an expected yield of 5,537.3 metric tons (MT) of red onions in December, out of the total expected yield of 12,837.9 MT until February next year.

However, the BPI said the sum of next month’s expected yield plus the 13,043.37 MT in monitored stock still point to a December supply shortage due to crop damage from typhoon “Paeng” in October and increasing consumer demand toward the Holiday Season.

It noted that amid high market prices of P280 to P400 per kilo, the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) attached agency recommended the importation of onions.

“Have we forgotten our farmers?” Marcos asked.  “High consumer prices are being addressed but what happens to our farmers who are reeling from farm-gate prices that are half the production cost?”

Marcos added that farm-gate prices in mid-November stood at P25 to P27 per kilo, compared to the P45 to P55 per kilo that farmers’ groups say they need to break even at harvest time.

“Importation has been part of a cycle of price manipulation by traders in cahoots with corrupt officials in the DA and the Bureau of Customs,” Marcos said, lamenting that “turning a blind eye to hoarding and smuggling leave us stuck with the stop-gap measure of importation.”

“Local crops are hoarded to cause an artificial shortage, then sold when consumer demand pushes up market prices. High prices then back up a call for importation that pushes down farm-gate prices. Traders then buy from local farmers at depressed prices and hoard the crop once again, while smugglers profit on misdeclared and undervalued imports,” Marcos explained.

The Senate Committee on Co-operatives chairman added low harvest incomes will force farmers’ cooperatives to compromise with traders eyeing import permits and leave small farmers unable to pay for dry and cold storage which have “already been cartelized.”

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