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Imports force Nueva Vizcaya, Ecija onion growers to sell low.

Byline: Melvin Gascon, Armand Galang

ARITAO -- Unregulated onion imports and opportunistic middlemen force farmers to sell their produce at very low prices following harvests, onion growers have complained.

Jose Boncato, president of Butao Upland Farmers' Association in Barangay (village) Bone South here, said part of the problem was the absence of storage facilities.

He said harvests were abundant but with no place to store the produce, traders were able to dictate farm-gate prices. "Traders are apparently aware that we cannot afford to prolong the storage life of our products because of the lack of facilities," he said.

From November to March, growers produce onions, making Nueva Vizcaya one the major onion-producing provinces in the country, according to Carlito Floresca, 68.

Floresca, president of Onion Growers' Association in the province, said smuggling had also added to the anguish of onion growers.

From last week's price of P20 a kilogram, onions are now bought here at P17 to P18 per kg. Farmers are concerned that the price will drop further due to imports flooding the markets.

"At the moment, the price is still a bit profitable for the farmers. But a slight dip in the price will already put them on the losing side," he said. They have asked the government to be "more serious" in running after and prosecuting onion smugglers.

The government-run Nueva Vizcaya Agricultural Terminal (NVAT) in Bambang town, which is intended to provide farmers direct access to buyers, has not helped either, according to farmers.

"Instead of being run by farmers, the NVAT is now managed by big-time traders who have their own business interests. So the problems remain," said Floresca.

Farmers also said the Department of Agriculture (DA) gave farmers here free seeds of a different variety of onion, the F1 Condor, which were bought at a lower farm-gate price than the Red Pinoy variety.

The latter variety, experts say, is best suited for Nueva Vizcaya's climate.

"Many were enticed to plant the Condor because it was what [representatives from the DA] prescribed. To our disappointment, it has no buyers because of its pale color and shorter storage life," said Raul Igne, a farmer.

In Bongabon town, Nueva Ecija province, onion growers also complained that imported onions had displaced local produce from the market and that the week's farm-gate sales had left poor farmers even poorer.

Jun Agunan, a farmer of Barangay Lusok in Bongabon, said onions were sold for P18 per kg, giving him a net income of P32,000 from his 8,000-square-meter onion farm.

Agunan's farm yielded about 9,000 kg of onions, which should have earned him P162,000 after six months of labor and P130,000 in production expenses.

"Poor sales won't leave us with any income because I have to address other debts," said Agunan. "Oftentimes, everyone in the family has to work on the farms so we could reduce expenses."

"I really wish that customers will buy our products first before they consider the imported onions," he said.

Bongabon Mayor Allan Xyztus Gamilla said the government might need to consider subsidizing the production cost of onion growers as a way to survive a market slowly being dominated by importers.

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Mar 24, 2014
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