Senator Imee Marcos said local onion farmers in at least eight provinces face a bleak Christmas if the government’s plan to import the crop coincides with December harvests.
Marcos explained that farmers in Regions 1 to 3 have said they 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.
“More than 43% of red onion harvests in the next three months will take place in December, with Mindoro’s harvests to follow in January,” Marcos said, citing the Bureau of Plant Industry’s (BPI’s) November monitoring report on onions both planted and stored in previous months.
The report showed 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.
But the BPI said that 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.
Amid high market prices of Php280 to Php400 per kilo, the Department of Agriculture’s attached agency has recommended the importation of onions.
“Have we forgotten our farmers? High consumer prices are being addressed but what happens to our farmers who are reeling from farmgate prices that are half the production cost?” Marcos asked.
Farmgate prices in mid-November stood at Php25 to Php27 pesos per kilo, compared to the Php45 to Php55 per kilo that farmers’ groups say they need to break even at harvest time, not yet including the cost of cold storage.
“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. “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 farmgate prices. Traders then buy from local farmers at depressed prices and hoard the crop once again, while smugglers profit on misdeclared and undervalued imports,” the senator explained.
The Senate Committee on Cooperatives chairman added that 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.”(PR)