Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said they have asked two government agencies to look into reports that a cartel of trading firms have leased and then closed down four major cold storage facilities for bulb onions allegedly to force farmers to sell at low prices.
Piñol said the Department of Agriculture (DA) will suspend importation of bulb onions pending the results of the investigation that will be conducted by the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
At the same time, Piñol said the DA will provide farmers’ groups with a P200-million working capital that may be used to buy the produce of local farmers. The amount will be released though the Agricultural Credit Policy Council.
Piñol has also ordered Director Roy Abaya of DA Field Operations to source reefer vans which could be used as temporary storage facilities for locally produced onions. The local onions will be released to the market when prices have stabilized.
As agreed between onion farmers groups and importers, onions may be imported only after the local harvest season.
To support this agreement, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) will not issue sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) permits until after the harvest season.
“The moratorium on the issuance of SPS permits will be extended until such time the PCC and NBI have terminated their investigation,” Piñol said.
In an attempt to control prices of onions, the DA chief said some trading firms have allegedly leased four cold storage facilities but closed these to manipulate farmgate prices while waiting for the time that they will be allowed to import.
“With the farmers' produce bought at very low prices cornered and consolidated, traders could control the pricing of onion in the market and generate huge profits,” Piñol said. (Ventures Cebu)