Philippines suspends importation of onion until May

Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. has ordered a temporary suspension of onion importation until May.

In a statement on Friday, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said Laurel issued the order “to prevent further depressing onion prices due to supply glut.”

The agency said the increased supply has pushed down farm gate prices of onion between P50 and P70 a kilo, and could fall further when more onions are harvested in February.

In some areas in Nueva Ecija, which accounts for 97% of onion production in Luzon, farm gate prices have dropped to as low as P20 a kilo, it said.

Laurel met representatives of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI), on Thursday, to discuss the surge in domestic supply of onion due to fresh harvest and arrival of additional supply imported in December, according to the DA.

Among the culprit for the supply glut was the delayed arrival of 99 tons of onion imported in December, which now entered the country between January 1 and 15.

With this, the DA said the importation halt could be extended to as late as July.

Laurel said that “in principle, I agree with no onion importation until July.”

“But that is on condition that if there is a sudden supply shortfall, we will have to import earlier,” said the Agriculture chief, adding that “we don’t know what would happen because of El Niño.”

The DA said warmer temperatures and a prolonged dry spell caused by El Niño could spawn more pests that could undermine onion production. The full impact of El Nino is expected to be felt around March and April.

For its part, PCAFI reported that there is an expected supply surplus since an additional 40% of land area was planted to onions.

The group added that even with the reported infestation of armyworms in some areas in Tarlac and Nueva Ecija, a supply glut is imminent as the pest is only expected to damage around 5% of standing crops.

The DA said Laurel and PCAFI agreed to meet every 45 days to review the supply situation and recalibrate import schedule and volume. The next meeting will be held in early March.

The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) reported that only 366 hectares out of 10,217 hectares of farm lands planted to onion have been infested by armyworms—the caterpillar-like larvae stage of what would eventually become moths.

Out of the infested areas, only crops on 6.9 hectares were totally damaged while 359.1 hectares sustained partial damage, according to the BPI. (GMA Integrated News)