Red onions sold in the market (PNA photo by Alfred Frias)

MANILA – At least eight provinces are expected to be affected by the Department of Agriculture's (DA) plan to import onions this December, Senator Imee Marcos said Thursday.

In a statement, Marcos particularly cited the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Batanes, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya and Tarlac which are all ready to harvest by the second week of December.

“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, referring to a monitoring report of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) which also showed an expected yield of 5,537.3 metric tons of red onions this month out of the total expected yield of 12,837.9 MT until February next year.

But the BPI noted that the sum of next month’s expected yield plus the 13,043.37 metric tons in monitored stock are seen to cause a supply shortage due to crop damage from Severe Tropical Storm Paeng in October and increasing consumer demand this holiday season.

Amid high market prices of PHP280 to PHP400 per kilo, the BPI 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 excluding the cold storage cost.

“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.Turning a blind eye to hoarding and smuggling leave us stuck with the stop-gap measure of importation,” Marcos said.

“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,” she added.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate Committee on Cooperatives, explained that low harvest incomes would force farmers’ cooperatives to compromise with traders eyeing import permits and leave small farmers unable to pay for dry and cold storage which she claims to have "already been cartelized.” (PNA)