The Department of Agriculture (DA) said Thursday it might resort to importing red onions if local producers do not cooperate to bring prices down.
DA spokesperson Rex Estoperez said the agency is waiting for the cold storage inventory of red onions.
“If they won’t cooperate, worse comes to worst, we will import [onions],” Estoperez said, adding that red onion has been priced as high as P280 per kilo.
He said the DA had asked the Bureau of Plant Industry to talk to farmer traders who bought red onions in August and September and placed their stock in cold storage.
Estoperez said they expect to complete stock inventory by Friday to determine the exact supply situation.
DA Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista said early this week that consumers could buy cheaper-priced onions at P170 per kilo at Kadiwa stores nationwide.
Evangelista said the agency continues to open more Kadiwa stores to help ease the burden of consumers amid the steep increase in onion prices.
“Based on the inventory of our cold storage facilities, there is enough supply. But by now, we are seeing that the red onions came from the cold storage,” she said.
Evangelista said farmers are looking at harvesting onions in December, and the DA is looking at the harvest volume and whether it will be big enough to increase supply and lower prices.
But 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.
She noted 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 percent of red onion harvests in the next three months will take place in December, with Mindoro’s harvests to follow in January,” Marcos said.
The Bureau of Plant Industry reported that the expected yield of redonions in December is 5,537.3 metric tons, out of a total expected yield of 12, 837.9 MT until February next year.
But the bureau 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.
Amid high market prices of P280 to P400 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 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, 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, she said.
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.”
Also on Thursday, the DA said it is studying lifting the ban imposed by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources on the sale of frozen imported pink salmon and pompano in wet markets.
Estoperez said the agency observed that before the pandemic, production of pink salmon and pompano was relatively small.
“We received feedback that it increased, and it hurt the bangus and tilapia industry, but there is clamor from senators and congressmen,” Estoperez said.
He said the DA has to balance consumer interest and the clamor of those affected by the fish importation.
“We are considering the moratorium, no date until when,” the official said.
Estoperez said the timing of the ban might not be good because of the holiday season.
BFAR earlier announced it would seize imported pompano and pink salmon sold in wet markets starting Dec. 4 to protect the local fishing industry.
The ban was based on the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 and an administrative order issued in 1999, which governs the importation offresh, chilled, or frozen fish for institutional buyers.