‘OPPORTUNITY IN CRISIS’: Farmers asked to focus on high-value crops as onions remain pricey

Farmers plant bulb onions in Miagao, Iloilo which is considered the Onion Capital of the Visayas. (DA-6 file photo)

By John Noel E. Herrera

The Iloilo Provincial Agriculture Office (PAO) urged local farmers to plant high-value crops such as onions and garlic, as prices of these agricultural products remain high in the local market.

PAO chief Dr. Idelfonso Toledo said farmers could venture into garlic and onion production, particularly during the summer season when it is not yet time for rice production.

“Ang tanan siguro naton nga area nga suitable for bulb onions, especially ang mga manug-sandiya, if they could divert to other high-value crops nga amu ni ang sibuyas,” Toledo said.

He added that other towns in the first district of Iloilo – Igbaras, Tubungan, Oton, San Joaquin, Tigbauan, and Guimbal – could also follow what Miag-ao town is doing, as it is considered the “Onion Capital of Visayas,” with 600 hectares of land producing around 900 metric tons (MT) of onions.

But PAO acknowledged that not all agricultural lands in the province are suitable for high-value crop production, as these products, like onions, are dependent on a specific kind of soil.

Toledo also said that the provincial government is willing to provide technical assistance to interested farmers who want to produce high-value crops.

“Kon gusto nila hands-on, pwede ma-arrange sa mga farmers nga naga-bulb onions sa Miag-ao. Pwede man na naton sila ma-request nga kung pwede didto maka-training,” he said.

Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr. also explained that there is no “high level of shortage” of red onions in Iloilo, but since the province is dependent also on other provinces to meet its annual supply of over 5,000 MT of onions per year, then that is probably the reason why prices of onions in local markets remain high.

“Indi lang tama kadamo, pero there is supply. May ara naghalin sa Pangasinan and Mindoro,” Defensor said.

“Halin sang-una dependent gid man kita halin sa sagwa, maybe kulang ang production naton, but it is something nga hindi mo gid masiguro kay ang onion specific sa duta. Indi kita ka siling nga makapagusto kita tanum kay basi hindi maayo ang buhi ya sa iban nga banwa,” he added.

The governor said that based on his own monitoring, onion prices in some town markets ranged from P300 to P350 per kilo, which is P60 higher compared to its 2019 price before the pandemic started.

Onion prices at Iloilo Terminal Market in Iloilo City are still between P450 and P500.

Defensor hopes that prices of onion will start to go down by the time local farmers introduce their products to the local market as the harvest season is expected in April.

Data from PAO indicated that the town of Miag-ao has the highest average production of onions with around 921 MT, followed by Alimodian (9 MT); Oton (6.83 MT), and Igbaras (1.79 MT).

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (DA) central office said onions will become cheaper soon as around 3,000 metric tons of imported onions have arrived in the country, based on the reports of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).

To recall, the DA had earlier approved the importation of over 21,000 metric tons of onions to address the supply gap and lower the price of onions in the country.

Some onion farmers in Miag-ao, Iloilo, however, said that the move of the government could end up hurting local farmers like them, citing that the importation will collide with the onion harvest season.

“Ang tendency sini nga kung may masulod nga imported, syempre mabutong ang price padalom. Sa mga farmers daw okay lang man tani sa ila nga nag-import, pero maka-compete sila as long as dako ang patubas. Mas okay gid tani nga wala importation kag ang aton supply halin lang sa local suppliers,” said April Joy Depamaylo.

Lucia Capaducio, chairperson of PAMANGGAS (Paghugpong sang Mangunguma sa Panay kag Guimaras), also emphasized that instead of importation, the government should focus on improving the skills of farmers, and go after smugglers and illegal traders.

Senator Riza Hontiveros also earlier reiterated that importation should not be the government’s answer whenever prices of onion and other products increase, but to expand the support for local onion growers by providing them with irrigation and cold-storage facilities.

“These reforms are needed so that high onion prices will soon be a thing of the past and not a yearlong trigger of tears for Pinoys,” Hontiveros added.