DA suspends onion imports due to supply glut

Photo by ABHISHEK HAJARE on Unsplash
  • Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr suspended onion imports until May due to a supply glut
  • The suspension may be extended depending on the supply situation
  • Imports arrived later than expected and coincided with fresh harvest

Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr. ordered the suspension of onion imports until May, possibly extending to July, to arrest decline in prices due to a supply glut.

Laurel met representatives of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) on Jan 18 to discuss the surge in domestic supply of onion due to fresh harvest and the arrival of additional supply imported in December, the Department of Agriculture said in a statement.

It explained that 99 tons of onions scheduled for arrival in December got delayed and arrived between January 1 and 15, coinciding with the harvest season.

“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,” he said. “Hindi po natin alam ang mangyayari dahil may El Niño (We don’t know what will happen because of El Niño),” the agriculture chief said.

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

The increased supply has pushed down farm gate prices of onion to between P50 and P70 a kilo, and these 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, prices have dropped to as low as P20 a kilo. Luzon produces 65% of the country’s onion supply.

In December 2022, prices of onion surged to a record high of P720 a kilo due to tight supply.

PCAFI told Tiu Laurel they expect a supply surplus since an additional 40% of land area was planted to onions. 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 Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) reported that only 366 hectares out of 10,217 hectares of farm lands planted to onions were infested by armyworms—the caterpillar-like larvae stage of what would eventually become moths. Of the infested areas, only crops on 6.9 hectares were totally damaged while 359.1 hectares sustained partial damage, the BPI report said.

Tiu Laurel and PCAFI agreed to meet every 45 days to review the supply situation and recalibrate import schedules and volumes. The next meeting will be in early March.