Farmers slams agri dept over onion post-harvest losses due to mass imports

FILE PHOTO: A worker hauls a rack full of sacks of white onions to be delivered to a wet market in Metro Manila, Philippines July 4, 2016. Pro-farmers Anakpawis Party-list criticized the Department of Agriculture (DA) over its “failure to implement decisive measures” this week amid local overproduction of onions leading to farmgate prices. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
FILE PHOTO: A worker hauls a rack full of sacks of white onions to be delivered to a wet market in Metro Manila, Philippines July 4, 2016. Pro-farmers Anakpawis Party-list criticized the Department of Agriculture (DA) over its “failure to implement decisive measures” this week amid local overproduction of onions leading to farmgate prices. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

A farmers' group reported that onion farm workers are forced to throw their harvest due to very low farm gate prices.

Anakpawis Party-list criticized the Department of Agriculture (DA) over its “failure to implement decisive measures” this week amid local overproduction of onions leading to farm gate prices.

The rural-based group raised the alarm as they reported bankruptcy of onion farmers from Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro due to low farm gate prices. Local farm gate prices for onions were at a low P8 to P15 per kilogram in Mindoro and Nueva Ecija in contrast to the P51 per kilogram farm gate price of local onions in January, according to the group.

The department’s promotion of onion importation and lack of production support and regulation in local farm gate trade is to be blamed for the crisis, according to Anakpawis. In their statement, Anakpawis National Chairperson and Former Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano cited DA’s importation of 35,000 metric tons of red onions from China as part of the reason that forced onion farmers to “further bankruptcy.”

“Importation has always been a scourge to local industries because cheap imports pull down the value of our local products. Similar to the devastating impacts of importation measures to rice farmers and fisherfolks, onion farmers are at the losing end courtesy of the government's commitment to trade liberalization” Mariano said.

In recent senate hearings, agricultural imports from smuggling which include red onions was also cited as a contributor to the instability of supply and prices.

The rural group also reported data gathered from an onion farmer in Magsaysay that showed the deficit of onion farmers from production costs. “The cost of production of one hectare of onion farm reached P184,000, and yielded 125 redbags of 28 kilograms each. But after a quality check, it would fall down to 80 redbags. In mid-March, the farm gate price was at the low P12 per kilo, thus, only resulting a measly P26,880, or a deficit of P157,190 from the total cost of production,” Anakpawis reported.

“Moreover, the cost for seeds reached P30,000, fertilizer P24,000 and pesticides P17,000. These items composed near 40% of the total cost. Another huge cost was for diesel used in irrigation at nearly P18,000 and land rent at P30,000 or 16% of the total cost,” the group added.

Anakpawis added that the lack of access of local onion growers to cold storage facilities increased the post-harvest losses from freshly-harvested onions, which is recorded at 45.06% or 48, 891 metric tons amounting to P1.6 billion, early this year.

In response to the crisis, the DA’s regional office in Mindanao announced that the department is doubling its efforts to assist farmers through agreements with private storage facilities and supermarkets to address overproduction.

“The Department of Agriculture understands the predicaments of our farmers in Occidental Mindoro and we are now pooling more funds as grants to our partner coops so that they can procure more and also serve the non-members who are left behind and have also clamored for support,” DA-MIMAROPA regional executive director Antonio Gerundio said.

The department was urged by Anakpawis to compensate farmers for the costs that were affected by liberalization and oil deregulation policies and to intervene by purchasing onion harvests at P50 per kilogram.

Anakpawis also called on the public for “bayanihan” to aid indebted onion farmers by directly buying their harvests at higher prices. The group also urged the Land Bank of the Philippines to write-off onion farmer loans.

Basti Evangelista is a news and opinion writer who focuses on Philippine national politics and sectoral issues. His personal advocacy includes press freedom and social justice. He regularly plays online games with his friends during his free time. The views expressed are his own.

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