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DA eyes SRP for onions

Bella Cariaso - The Philippine Star
DA eyes SRP for onions
Farmers in Nueva Ecija harvested and sold sacks of onion at P50 per kilogram on a Thursday afternoon, March 30, 2023.
Anj Andaya / Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — The government is eyeing the implementation of a suggested retail price (SRP) for onions as the agency is looking into the possible hoarding of the bulbs, a ranking official of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said yesterday.

In an interview, DA Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Kristine Evangelista disclosed that the DA would also meet with stakeholders, led by farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), to discuss the issues affecting the supply and cost of onions.

“We will have a scheduled meeting (today). We invited the stakeholders amid the increasing retail price of onions in the markets ranging from P170 to P200 per kilo,” she said.

She added that the implementation of P150-per-kilo SRP and the importation of onions would also be on the agenda during agriculture officials’ consultation with farmers’ groups.

“(The SRP) will be part of the agenda, but before we can decide to impose an SRP, we have to make sure that we are using the right prices, and we are all on the same page in terms of farmgate expenses of the traders,” Evangelista said.

An SRP of P150 per kilo will ensure profit for traders and retailers, according to the DA official.

“The SRP in the past was also a way to temper the price and price guide at the same time,” she said.

Evangelista mentioned that she would also coordinate with Assistant Secretary for inspectorate and enforcement James Layug to determine the inflow and outflow of onions in cold storage facilities to determine if there is hoarding of supply.

“The prices can be a manifestation of the problem in the supply as we know that the farmers’ harvest has already ended and the bulk of the supply was already sold to traders,” Evangelista said.

She cited farmers’ complaints that traders bought the onions at low farmgate prices, but sold them at high prices.

“The release of the stocks in cold storage facilities is something that we also need to look into to determine the volume of onions released in the markets,” she said.

The DA will finalize the volume of white onions to be imported, according to Evangelista.

“We don’t want to reach a point where we will only import when there is no longer a supply of onions,” she said.

SINAG executive director Jayson Cainglet earlier said the importation of at least 7,500 metric tons (MT) of white onions should be done to allay fears of shortage in onion supply, which he said was used by traders and importers last year to increase the retail prices of the bulbs.

Cainglet added that at least 7,500 MT of white onions should be outsourced to prevent a similar situation last year where institutional buyers like restaurants, fast food and hotels shifted to red onions because of shortage in the supply of white bulbs.

“We need to reconcile the figures of the stakeholders and the BPI (Bureau of Plant Industry). We both need the right data to come up with the correct intervention and calibrated importation. The data they get is very important in decisions that we have to make,” Evangalista said.

Based on DA’s monitoring in Metro Manila markets yesterday, the retail price of onions reached as high as P200 per kilo at New Las Piñas City Public Market; Guadalupe Public Market in Makati City; Marikina Public Market and Mega Q-Mart in Quezon City.

SINAG president Rosendo So has said that the retail price of onions is overpriced at P200 per kilo, adding that traders only bought the bulbs from farmers at P60 per kilo during the harvest season.

So added that the retail price of onions should only range between P130 and P140 per kilo.

He noted that imported white onions should start to arrive in July to prevent another shortage after retail prices skyrocketed to P720 per kilo in December last year due to scarcity.

So contradicted BPI spokesman Jose Diego Roxas’ statement that stocks of white onions would last until September and November for red onions.

He emphasized that the DA and BPI should finally conduct an inventory of the onion stocks in various cold storage facilities.

So said the DA could still utilize the unused import permits when President Marcos approved the importation of at least 22,000 MT of onions last February.

“The DA still has remaining allocation after only 3,500 MT of onions arrived from the 22,000 MT approved by the President. Anytime, the BPI can issue a permit (to import). It only needs to finalize the date of importation,” So said.

Sugar imports

Meanwhile, Marcos yesterday approved another round of sugar importation to prevent price surges and boost the country’s supply of the sweetener.

The Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), led by acting administrator Pablo Luis Azcona, recommended to Marcos the importation of up to 150,000 MT of sugar during a meeting at Malacañang.

“We agreed to an additional importation of sugar to stabilize the prices. The maximum amount will be 150,000 MT, but probably less,” Marcos said.

The President, who concurrently serves as DA secretary, chairs the SRA Board.

SRA Board member Ma. Mitzi Mangwang, who represents sugar millers, Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile and SRA Board secretary Rodney Rubrica were present during the meeting.

Marcos said the government is opening the importation of sugar to all traders.

Based on the SRA’s forecast inventory, the country will have a negative ending stock of 552,835 MT by the end of August, the end of the milling season.

The importation of another 100,000 MT to 150,000 MT of sugar is necessary to avert a shortfall, according to Azcona.

In a chance interview, he said the final volume of the additional sugar imports will be made once the milling officially ends on May 30.

The SRA said that as of May 7, the country has enough supply of raw sugar with a beginning stock of 160,000 MT.

The country, however, still needs to import an additional 100,000 MT to 150,000 MT of sugar this year as the expected local production of 2.4 million MT and the 440,000 MT allowed to be imported under Sugar Order No. 6 as well as the 64,050 MT under the Minimum Access Volume mechanism could not cover the 3.1-million-MT demand, according to a statement from the Presidential Communications Office.

During their meeting, Azcona told Marcos that sugar farmers are happy with the issuance of SO 6 and that they are benefitting from the stable farmgate price of raw sugar, which is averaging at P62 per kilo for the current crop year (CY). It is higher than the P38-per-kilo average farmgate price in CY 2021-2022.

To improve productivity, the President also approved the proposal to move the start of the milling season from August to September this year.

“That’s important for the corresponding increase in production by approximately 10 percent,” he said.

For Azcona, opening the milling season in September would improve raw sugar recovery because it will minimize the milling of young cane.

Marcos also ordered the SRA to expedite block farming initiatives to increase production. Block farming is a system by which small farm lots are consolidated into at least a 30-hectare block farm.

At present, 21 block farms in the country average at least 40 hectares each.

Once organized into block farms, farmers are entitled to financial and mechanization support for increased production.

“The consolidation is an important part of agro-industrial production. We’re looking at increasing the budget for block farming to accelerate the process of organizing the block farms,” Marcos said. – Helen Flores

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