Onion farmers’ plight shows impact of unbridled imports
BONGABON, NUEVA ECIJA — The plight of onion growers in this province could provide a peek at the impact of the push to liberalize agricultural imports on Filipino farmers.
Take the case of onion farmer Camilo de Guzman.
De Guzman, 45, deferred his harvest of onions for days, waiting for farm-gate prices to increase from P20 per kilogram some two weeks ago.
He waited in vain, though.
The opposite happened as farm-gate prices for premium quality onions dropped further to as low as P15 per kg, according to De Guzman.
“We waited for a better, higher price but it dropped further,” he said.
“We had no choice but to harvest the bulbs so we can recover our capital,” he added.
De Guzman was among thousands of onion farmers in Nueva Ecija who have been asking the government to intervene and stop, or restrict the issuance of permits to import onions to prioritize local supply.
Onion production in Nueva Ecija accounted for 54 percent of the country’s annual output, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA).
DA data also showed that the average annual supply of onions in the country is 130,452 metric tons while the average import is 28,986 MT.
De Guzman said importation of onions had led to a glut in the market and caused prices to drop sharply.
He said he borrowed P130,000 from lenders in the neighborhood to grow onions on a 1-hectare farm. To profit, his produce should have been sold for at least P30 per kg, he said.
Last year, De Guzman easily paid the loan and earned extra to cover for his family’s expenses when his harvest was sold at P40 to P42 per kg.
The office of the provincial agriculturist said 21,086 farmers had planted onions on 11,502.84 ha of farms in the province this year.
Considered as the onion capital of the Philippines, this town hosts 2,319.10 ha of onion farms planted with red shallot (49.65 ha), yellow granex (590 ha) and red creole (1,679.45 ha).
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol blamed a cartel for the plight of onion farmers.
He said he had received reports that private traders had controlled cold storage facilities, forcing farmers to sell their produce at a very low price.
“The government is looking into these reports,” Piñol said at a dialogue with farmers here.
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