Government urged to protect local onion supply vs imports
(The Philippine Star) - August 11, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The country’s supply of locally grown onions is still available and could meet the demands of consumers for the rest of the year, according to KASAMNE, a farmers cooperative based in Nueva Ecija.

KASAMNE expressed its  appreciation to the Department of Agriculture for its assistance to the local onion industry which proved critical to the success of the 2013 onion cropping season. 

This was stressed by Gaudioso Bartolome, president of the KASAMNE.

According to  Bartolome, the volume of this year’s onion production may be double the output of 2012. 

The market situation for onions, he said, is favorable not only to the country’s local farmers but also to Filipino consumers. 

The retail price of red onions is reportedly  at P40 to P50 per kilo in Metro Manila’s retail outlets.  This is an affordable level for  Filipino consumers, and a far cry from the P120 per kilo retail price prevailing in 2010. 

Onions growers however bewail the openly rampant and widespread smuggling of onions, garlic and other agricultural products. 

In the second week of March, the Bureau of Customs, acting on the complaint of KASAMNE,  raided the T.P. Marcelo & Company Inc. – a cold storage facility in North Bay Boulevard, Navotas, Metro Manila where a voluminous cargo containing no less than 4,500 bags of smuggled onions were discovered.  The facility was padlocked and the cargo was seized. 

Bartolome lamented, however,  that despite the raid conducted at the Marcelo Cold Storage, the incidence of smuggling of agricultural products and in particular fresh onions is not only rising, but has  become  “openly, rampant, and widespread.”

The illegal trade, Bartolome warned,  is expected to become more extensive and vulgar during the  rainy season.  Such a situation, the KASAMNE official said, poses a grave threat not only to the recently resuscitated eight billion onion industry but also to the livelihood and welfare of thousands of local onion farmers, growers, and producers.

Based on the reports of onion industry stakeholders, the certainty of rampant smuggling is supported by the fact that onions packed in PP open meshed bags bearing foreign brands and labels are openly being displayed and sold in the domestic market. 

The smuggled onions are believed to be unloaded in the major ports of Mindanao particularly the Port of Davao, Cagayan de Oro, and General Santos. 

The sale of foreign onion continues despite the fact that the Department of Agriculture (DA) had not issued this year any BPI Plant Quarantine Clearance (PQC) that could have allowed the entry of imported onions.  

During a recent dialogue with DA Sec. Proceso Alcala on smuggling concerns, it was reported that the current onion crop for the 2013 season was unprecedented in the history of the local onion production due to the favorable weather condition and absence of any pest infestation that prevailed during the first half of the year.  

This was complimented by the effective coordination during the pre-harvest and the post-harvest periods between the private sector and the DA.

Based on the onion industry cold storage inventory report conducted by the National Onion Action Team at the end of May 2013, the country’s total red and white onion cold storage stock this year amounted to over six million bags (152,000 metric tons) vs the expected average monthly consumption of 14,000 metric tons or a total of 112,000 metric tons for the eight  months lean period from June to January 2014 before the new harvest. 

However, the movement of local onions in the domestic market is very slow or, in fact stagnant and not moving at all, while the price is too low due to the presence of unfair competition from smuggled onions especially in the Visayas and Mindanao regions. 

Local onions, mostly produced in Central Luzon and stored in major cold storages around Central Luzon and Metro Manila, are not being withdrawn and shipped to Visayas and Mindanao due to the smuggled onions originating from China and India.

 This can be easily observed in the non-movement of the regular weekly 100 to 120 x 20ft container van loaded with onions destined for the southern ports.  As a result, adversely affected are the non-withdrawal of the local cold storage onion stocks inventory in Metro Manila and certain areas in Central Luzon – making onion farmers desperate and on the verge of bankruptcy – and who are now  pinning their last hope on the Bureau of Customs to control the  “openly, rampant, and widespread” entry of onions in the southern ports.   

The farmers requested Commissioner Rozzano “Ruffy: Biazon of the Bureau of Customs for a dialogue regarding the rampant smuggling.  The requested dialogue was granted on 24 July 2013 with 27 farmers participating. Among the BOC officials who attended the gathering aside from Commissioner Biazon were Horacio Suansing – Deputy Commissioner for Enforcement; Director Fernandino Tuazon – Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) and Director George Aliño – Enforcement Service and other top BOC officials. 

During the meeting, expressed his personal commitment to help the Filipino farmer who is most adversely affected by smuggling.  He called on them to help BOC in its anti-smuggling drive and suggested that regular dialogue be conducted to provide the agency with intelligence information. 

The Customs chief pledged that in their next dialogue he shall order BOC frontliners particularly the Customs Collectors of the different ports to attend and participate in the meeting because the latter are on top of the Customs cargo clearance processes and have a direct hand in the release of imports. 

Pursuant to the BOC-farmers agreement, the Director of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) issued a memorandum to all CIIS frontliners to closely monitor reefer containers and alert those suspected to contain smuggled agricultural products. 

 As of today, it was reported that a number of shipments of garlic and onions have been seized by BOC authorities as a result of the strengthened surveillance and monitoring.

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