By Ashley Erika O. Jose, Reporter

THE Agriculture department said only 5,000 metric tons (MT) worth of onion imports from the initial target of 21,060 MT will arrive by the shipment deadline this week.

“The applications (for onion imports were) approved last week,” Rex C. Estoperez, deputy spokesman of the Department of Agriculture (DA), told BusinessWorld by phone on Sunday. “The volume that has been granted import clearances is only 5,000 metric tons.”

Mr. Estoperez said that the imports will be distributed to Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao, with a target sale price of P100 to P150 per kilogram.

“Our projection is to sell it between P100 to P150, but we’ll see once the imports arrive,” Mr. Estoperez said.

In a letter dated Jan. 6, the DA opened the application process for sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances on Jan. 9 for imported yellow and red onions, with the application deadline set at Jan. 13.

Importers were given a Jan. 27 deadline to bring in their shipments, a condition designed to minimize the impact on the domestic onion harvest.

Onion prices in wet markets rose to P420-P600 per kilo during the Jan. 6-10 period.

According to the DA’s price monitoring report from Jan. 20, domestic red onions sold for P300 to P400 per kilo, with white onions at P250 to P400 per kilo.

The suggested retail price (SRP) for onions is P250 per kilo.

Gerald Glenn F. Panganiban, officer-in-charge director of the DA’s Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), told reporters in a briefing last week that the goal is to bring onion prices below the SRP.

He said that the BPI continues to monitor wet markets following reports of smuggled onions.

“Most of the smuggled items are misdeclared. They may bring diseases and pests, so we continue to monitor these reports and I am warning the public that these are unsafe for consumption,” he said.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura Executive Director Jayson H. Cainglet said in a Viber message on Sunday that the farmgate price of onions is now at P100-P120 per kilo, barely above the cost of production estimated at P80 to P100 per kilo.

“And yet retail prices of onions remain high. Regardless of the actual volume of imported onions that will arrive, the damage has been done,” he said.

Mr. Cainglet added that traders and importers may use imports as leverage to negotiate even lower farmgate prices.

“There is no worse enemy of the local agriculture sector than these elements within the Department of Agriculture that announce onion imports. We fear the worst for our onion farmers, as the bulk of the onions has yet to be harvested,” Mr. Cainglet said.