The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) over the weekend warned of a looming onion crisis in Central Luzon as tons of unsold stocks pile up despite depressed farmgate prices.
Sinag officials and Nueva Ecija farmers blamed the alleged cartel of onion traders and importers for overstocking on imported onions, thus forcing the price of locally produced onions to sink to “ridiculously low levels,” the group claimed.
“Ibinababa na ng mga magsisibuyas ang presyo sa P10-12/kilo for white onions at sa P7-9/kilo for red onions pero madalang pa rin ang pagbili ng mga onion traders. Samantala, hindi naman gaano bumababa ang presyo ng sibuyas sa mga palengke at supermarket na nanatili sa P35-40/kilo,” Sinag chair Rosendo So said.
The Sinag leader said agents of onion traders were reportedly apprehensive about buying onions from local farmers since most warehouses of traders in Manila and nearby provinces are full of imported and smuggled onions.
The Bureau of Customs had earlier confirmed to Sinag that smugglers were now using some ports in Mindanao to smuggle rice and onion; onion traders in Luzon therefore see no need to supply Visayas and Mindanao with the crop.
Sinag said that these onion traders are believed to be the same group of unscrupulous businessmen behind the stratospheric rise of garlic prices last year.
“The difference of onion price from farmgate to retail of P25-30 per kilo is a glaring example of price manipulation by a cartel of traders and importers who have total control of the onion supply,” So said.
He noted that the ideal situation is for onion growers to sell their produce by at least P12/kilo for white onions and at least P15/kilo for red onions. Retail prices for onions should only be P25/kilo.
“Before thousands of onion farmers lose their shirts and give up farming altogether, we enjoin the Department of Agriculture, big food processors and supermarket chains to buy their onions directly at the farmgate for around P12/kilo just so onion growers could at least break even,” So said.
He stressed that at the current prices for red and white onions, the prevailing farmgate price is even below the farmer’s cost of production. The next two weeks will be even more critical with the onset of the peak harvest season, he said.
In the province of Nueva Ecija alone, onion growers are projected to harvest 10.2 million kilos of white onion and about 75.3 million kilos of red onion this harvest season.
Sinag said it can make transport arrangements for food establishments and vendors’ associations or any group interested in helping local onion growers. Sinag is also encouraging eateries and carinderias to serve onion soup, onion rings or onion pickles just to help Filipino onion growers.
In 2013, local onion production reached 134 million kilos while government reported onion imports at 8.5 million kilos in the same year.
But data gathered by Sinag from the UN trade report pegged Chinese onion exports to the Philippines in 2013 at 11.5 million kilos. In the same year, the European Union also reported exporting some 2.8 million kilos of onions to the Philippines, while some 629,000 kilos came from India.
The UN data indicates that the actual volume of imported onion is easily double the quantity officially reported by the government, So said.