Farmers urge gov't: Use up PH red onion supply first before importing white onions

Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2022 02:03 AM

A group of onion farmers on Wednesday urged the government to delay importing white onions to address a shortage, saying there was still enough supply of red onions to meet demand.

Luchie Ceña, manager of the Valiant Cooperative in Nueva Ecija, told ABS-CBN News the next harvest of white onions would come by the first quarter of 2023.

But she cautioned against opting to import to tide over the supply.

“Hindi naman din kami against sa importation kung talagang kailangan,” Ceña said in a phone interview.

“Ang pakiusap namin na sana ay maunti lang talaga, kung talagang kailangan. At kung maaari nga ang pakiusap namin ay huwag na kasi nga nagkakaroon na ng alternative solution, unti-unti ang puting sibuyas at itong pula ang nagiging replacement na natin.”

(We’re not against importation if it is really necessary. Our only request is that it be small, limited to what’s needed. If it’s possible, we hope that we don’t import since alternative solutions are gradually coming up, with red onions replacing white onions.)

Ceña added the farmers fear it would lead to more smuggling of red onions.

Customs officials seized 12 containers containing P36-million worth of red and white onions at a port in Misamis Oriental last August 11. 

The shipment was declared as other food products.

WHY IS IMPORTATION BEING DISCUSSED?

Food establishments have taken measures in recent weeks to deal with the lack of supply and high cost of white onions.

Some have used the vegetable sparingly, while others have replaced white onions with red.

Fast food giant Burger King also announced it would offer extra vegetables to offset the lack of white onions for its grilled burgers.

White onions have been tagged as “not available” in the last Department of Agriculture’s (DA) price monitoring in August 10.

The DA said last week it monitored white onions being sold up to P400 per kilo.

At San Andres Market in Manila, only one stall sold white onions at P600 a kilo.

The few consumers who did buy took only one piece costing between P120 to P200 depending on weight.

Restaurant groups have already met with the DA and farmers’ groups to discuss importing white onions to tide over the supply.

Rosendo So, president of farmers’ group SINAG, said hey offered replacing white onions with red for the meantime, but the groups preferred using white onions.

He said the restaurant groups will advise the DA on the volume of the needed onions.

So estimates it would be 5,000 tons of white onions or 100 containers. 

“Kailangan may consolidator pa rin na magpapasok, ‘yon ang tinitingnan. ‘Yong volume, hindi rin nila tantiya kung ilan ang kailangan,” So said in a phone interview.

“Ang inaano lang nila, baka pwedeng may pumasok para at least hindi sila mahirapan.”

(A consolidator would be needed to bring in imported onions. That’s what’s being explored. The groups still don’t have an estimate on the volume they need. What they are concerned for more is an importer to come to at least lessen their troubles.)

WHY ARE LOCAL WHITE ONIONS IN SHORT SUPPLY?

Ceña, who is based in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija, said farmers in the province were able to harvest more than enough onions early this year to meet the supply.

However, she said many white onions had rotted since these were least prioritized for cold storage, which is used to keep the onions fresh for transport and selling.

Red onions last longer in cold storage up to 10 months. White onions last only up to 6.

Ceña added there are not enough cold storage facilities to take in the harvested supply, but the government is spearheading efforts to get more units.

In a separate interview on Teleradyo, former Bongabon, Nueva Ecija vice mayor Hernan Andres asked the government for support for the local white onion farmers.

"Una, mabigyan tayo ng mga inputs, mabigyan tayo ng mga buto," he said, adding that farmers also need help in buying fertilizers.

(First, we hope to be given inputs, we hope to be given seeds.)

He also appealed to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is also the current agriculture secretary, to support the farmers to address the shortage in white onion.

"Pagkakataon na rin po natin ito na makahingi tayo ng panawagan sa ating pangulo, mahal na pangulo, baka po pupuwede, bigyan ninyo ng suporta ang mga farmers na magsisibuyas dito sa Bongabon. Kasi po talagang nagtatanim po kami ng puti dito," Andres said.

(This is our chance to appeal to our president, if possible, please support the onion farmers here in Bongabon. Because we plant white onion here.)

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Central Luzon is the leading producer of white and red bermuda onions in the Philippines, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). 

The PSA noted that production of onions in the Philippines in the first quarter of 2022 increased by 6.3 percent compared to the same period in 2021. 

The DA said Friday it would probe if hoarding or artificial shortage could be behind the high cost of white onions.

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