MANILA -- The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) on Sunday warned of a looming onion crisis in Central Luzon as tons of unsold stocks pile up and are in danger of rotting despite depressed prices at the farmgate level.
SINAG officials and Nueva Ecija farmers blamed the so-called cartel of onion traders and importers for "over-stocking" imported onions, forcing the price of locally produced onions to sink to "ridiculously low levels."
Despite the low prices, very few still opt to buy locally produced onions.
"Ibinababa na nang 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 chairperson Rosendo So said.
The SINAG leader said agents of onion traders are reportedly apprehensive to buy onions from local farmers since most bodegas or warehouses of traders in Manila and nearby provinces are allegedly full of imported and smuggled onions.
The Bureau of Customs had earlier confirmed to SINAG that smugglers are now using some ports in Mindanao to smuggle rice and onion, decreasing the market for onion traders in Luzon, who see no need to supply onions in Visayas and Mindanao.
Reports reaching SINAG indicate that these onion traders are the same group ones behind the rise in 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 onion supply. 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," So explained.
The group is calling on the Department of Agriculture (DA) and major food manufacturers and supermarkets to buy onions directly from farmers.
"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 level of P10-12 for white and P7-9 for red onions, the prevailing farmgate price is even below the farmers’ cost of production.
The next two weeks is even more critical with the onset of the peak harvest season, he noted.
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 the government reported onion imports at 8.5 million kilos in the same year.
But data culled 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 actual volume imported onion is easily double the quantity officially reported by government.