Nueva Ecija onion farmers reel from entry of imports
BONGABON, NUEVA ECIJA—The start of the harvest season used to excite onion farmworker Ben Manalang, who came here on Wednesday from the adjacent town of Pantabangan, some 35 kilometers away, to toil for long hours.
On a clear day, Manalang joined more than 50 other farmworkers in uprooting red and yellow bulbs from nearly a hectare of plantation in Barangay Vega here, a laborious job that has brought them a decent income in the past few years.
Under the blazing sun and clad in a lightweight long-sleeve shirt, Manalang bent over and dug out the ground before gently pulling the long green shoots and removing the dirt from the roots.
After a few more minutes, Manalang stacked the newly harvested bulbs into mesh bags and secured them not far from his work site.
In an interview, Manalang said he had to do the work as fast as he could to get enough payment to put food on the table.
According to him, the farm owner paid them P40 per bag, which contains 30 kilos of onions. At the end of their harvest on Wednesday, Manalang managed to produce 15 bags of onions.
“What we earned today was a far cry from the usual P100 per bag in the past harvest seasons,” he said.
Harvest season for onions in Nueva Ecija happens once a year, usually between February to April, as the farm is alternately planted with rice.
Despite the steadily dropping income of onion farmers over the years, Manalang said they were left with no other options but to live with it since it has been their main source of income.
He said he could not also blame farm owners for the meager pay to harvesters like him because traders were buying their yields at low prices.
As of Wednesday, the farm-gate price for red onions stood between P210 and P220 per kilo and P40 and P50 per kilo for yellow bulbs.
Only last month, red onions were sold at the market for as much as P600 to P700 per kilo.
Based on the price monitoring of the Department of Agriculture on Thursday, local red onions were sold between P240 and P320, while local yellow onions were priced between P100 and P220 per kilo in the National Capital Region.
“We’re really praying that traders will buy our harvest at more reasonable prices,” Manalang said.
Traders raking in?
In a separate interview, Carlos Ison, an onion farmer, said they wanted to sell the yellow onions for P100 per kilo to cover their capital and other expenses, but traders would insist on buying them at almost half that price.
Ison said he spent P200,000 to grow onions in his half-hectare plantation, including expenses for irrigation and farm inputs.
“We could only hope that the farm-gate price would increase and become stable enough to allow us to recoup our losses that we incurred in the past harvest seasons,” he said.
But on Feb. 6, the Department of Agriculture issued an administrative circular containing the suggested retail price of P125 per kilo of medium- and big-sized imported red onions in wet markets in Metro Manila.
The onion farmers and small-scale traders feared that the influx of imported red onions, which has been authorized by the government to stem the soaring price of the commodity, would further cut the little profit they were making.
Local trader Jun Lasiste, who came from nearby Pampanga province to buy a few sacks of onions here on Wednesday, said he was hoping to find cheaper bulbs.
Lasiste said he bought yellow onions from Pangasinan province last week for P100 a kilo, but had to sell them for P90 a kilo.
According to him, some vendors in Pampanga were selling yellow bulbs for between P60 and P90 per kilo.
“I’m taking chances here, and I’m hoping to recover my losses,” Lasiste said.