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Friday, December 16, 2011

Onion farmers ask DA to put off import permit issuance to spare Ilocos farmers red shallot harvest

Onion farmers have asked the Department of Agriculture (DA) to put off any issuance of import permit for onion as imports will be detrimental particularly to the December harvest of Ilocos farmers that is now reaching the market by around 10,000 bags.

The Sibuyas ng Pilipinas Ating Alagaan (SIPAG) has just submitted a data with DA showing a stable inventory of 500,000 bags (of 25 kilos each) of onion nationally. This is enough to supply the 350,000 bags of the country’s monthly consumption.

Ilocos farmers have a separate production of an estimated 10,000 bags for red shallots in December consisting of 4,000 bags from the north and 6,000 from the south.

“(DA) Secretary (Proceso) Alcala has been very supportive of our farmers. We understand that he has to hear others who want an import permit now. But we will be making Ilocos farmers sacrifice for us if imports are allowed now,” said SIPAG President Francisco Collado in a press briefing.

While government may be concerned about sufficiency of supply during the holiday season, SIPAG said price of onion has been relatively stable at P45 to P50 per kilo at farmgate for small onions and P55 to P60 per kilo for medium to big onions.

“Even if price becomes a little higher, our money just goes around the economy, from a farmer’s hand to another. But if we will just allow imports deliberately, it will be Chinese farmers that will benefit from it. That will not benefit our economy at all,” he said.

And even after Ilocos farmers will have been done with harvest by end-December, Collado said onion farmers in Pangasinan and Nueva Ecija will start harvesting by January.

“WE don’t have a shortage because the older inventory are already running out, but harvest is already approaching,” he said.

SIPAG really takes the position that government should not at all allow anymore importation of onion in order to help this industry survive.

“How can we make the industry self-sufficient if we will allow importation everytime? Because of the imports, farmers are hesitant to plant. You’re giving him reason to stop planting because if imports arrive, local onion prices will be down,” he said.

SIPAG is concerned that containers with imported onion are already in port areas but just need import permits so that they may be taken out of the ports.
This unfortunate fate of the local onion industry is worsened by the poor shipping policy for the commodity between islands. This is in stark contract to the lax regulations on smuggled onions that flood the market through Mindanao ports.

“In Iloilo, they’re asking us to produce a quarantine permit to move our onions. But imported onion has been flooding us from Davao,” he said.

Farmers have already been happy about a good margin for their produce which is stabilizing at P35 per kilo since DA has been more strict in allowing issuance of import permits. But SIPAG has to be vigilant in asking government to sustain efforts to restrict imports since only a few people benefit from this importation through trading of import permits.

“The first one who gets an import permit can easily earn P500,000 just by trading on his import permit. When imports already start flooding the market and as price of onion goes down, an import permit may still be traded at P100,000 then P50,000,” said another SIPAG official.

One import permit involves 56 metric tons of onion. At a retail price of P100 per kilo, this involves a sale of P5.6 million.

Ilocos farmers have been pleading for government support since they have already lost their garlic industry to garlic imports from China and Taiwan. But the government should regulate the industry so as to protect the remaining onion industry even in Ilocos which produces shallot onions that have some special uses for salads and fresh dishes.

The onion industry is concerned that imported onion has been dismally proliferating in Mindanao so that some stocks have even been seen even in front of DA’s office in Davao. Melody Aguiba, PSciJourn Mega Manila

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