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Only 3,500 out of 21,000 MT of onions OK'd for importation arrived in PH — DA

Only a fraction of the more than 21,000 metric tons of onions that were authorized for importation had arrived in the country, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said Saturday.

In January, the DA gave the green light for the importation of 21,060 metric tons of onions to fill a supply gap and arrest the continuous spike in the price of the commodity in the market.

The volume allowed for importation is broken down as follows:

  • Fresh yellow onion - 3,960 metric tons
  • Fresh red onion - 17,100 metric tons

Licensed importers were given until January 27 for their shipments to arrive in the country.

However, DA Assistant Secretary and deputy spokesperson Rex Estoperez said in an interview on Dobol B TV that only 5,000 metric tons of onions were applied for importation during the import application window period.

“Ang dumating sa ating first border control ay 3,500 (metric tons) lamang,” he said.

(Only 3,500 metric tons reached the first border control.)

Imported onions were reportedly being sold for P180 to P200 per kilo, prompting President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., who is also the concurrent DA secretary, to call a meeting of stakeholders to discuss the development.

The importation program of the DA did not sit well with onion farmers.

Onion Farmers Philippines' James Ramos said that the DA failed to consult them before approving the importation plan.

“Hindi po [kumunsulta]… Bigla na lang lumabas inaprubahan na at ayan na nga lumabas na,” Ramos said in a separate interview on Dobol B TV.

(We were not consulted. Suddenly, the importation program was approved.)

Estoperez refuted this claim.

“Hindi totoo na hindi tayo kumunsulta sa mga magsasaka para sa importasyon ng sibuyas. May mga kinunsulta tayong magsasaka bago inaprubahan ang importasyon ng sibuyas,” he said.

(It's not true that we did not consult the farmers. We consulted some farmers before the onion importation plan was approved.)

Cold storage facilities

Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros urged the DA and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to develop new cold storage facilities in Mindoro, Nueva Ecija, Ilocos, and Pangasinan to reduce the revenue losses of farmers and help them obtain higher prices for their produce.

Hontiveros, who is a member of the Senate committee on agriculture, food, and agrarian reform, said the country may adopt the practices in India where the government provides concessional financing so the private sector will build more cold storage facilities.

She said in this way, small farmers can be prioritized, and the investment will happen in the first years even if the facility utilization may be low towards the end of the year.

"It does not have to be heavy on the budget. Eventually the availability of cold storage facilities will be a catalyst for the production of other seasonal farm produce," Hontiveros said following her visit to onion growers in Occidental Mindoro earlier this week.

The senator said that a microfinance program is vital so that farmers without cash on hand to pay for cold storage facilities are not compelled to sell their produce at a much lower price.

"We should give farmers what they need," she said. —VBL, GMA Integrated News