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Onion imports halted as farmers cry of losses

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has temporarily suspended the importation of bulb onions pending the result of an investigation into a cartel allegedly forcing local producers to slash prices by 50 percent.

In a Facebook post, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the move “would prevent the cartel from benefiting from their operations where they forced the drop in the buying price of local onions by leasing and closing cold storage facilities to onion farmers.”

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The farm-gate price of local onion has plummeted to P15 from a high of P30 a kilogram. The bumper harvest in the regions of Central Luzon, Mindoro and Iloilo is making it even more difficult for local growers to find traders who would buy their produce.

The Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) and the NBI are currently looking into the case, which involves four trading firms owning four major cold storage facilities in Nueva Ecija—considered as the “onion capital of the Philippines.”

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“[We] asked the PCC and NBI to investigate reports that trading firms have closed down four major cold storage facilities in an attempt to force farmers to sell at low prices,” Piñol said.

Allegedly, these firms are Rivson Coop Storage Inc., Argo Cold Storage, Kasamne Cold Storage and Titan Onion Cold Storage.

The secretary said the suspension would be extended until PCC and NBI finish their respective investigations.

“With the farmers’ produce bought at very low prices cornered and consolidated, traders could control the pricing of onion in the market and generate huge profits,” he added.

Argo and Kasamne officials told Inquirer they were open to any investigation and that despite reaching the maximum capacity of their storage, they would continue to receive local supply as much as they could.

Rivson and Titan cannot be reached for comment.

Industry group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura is cynical of the secretary’s latest move, noting the DA also ordered a suspension in October until the end of last year, yet imports continued to flood the market.

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Data from the Bureau of Customs (BOC) collated by the group showed that bulb onion imports last year spiked by 61 percent to 101.38 million bags from 38.76 million bags in 2017.

In November and December alone, the same time the suspension was implemented,  around 29 million bags were recorded by the BOC.

The Bureau of Plant Industry reported it did not issue any sanitary and pytho-sanitary permits to any onion traders since October last year.

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TAGS: Agriculture, Department of Agriculture, Onion imports
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