“Onion Basket” full after 3 years of big losses

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    (Garbed in an appropriate attire for protection against the intense summer heat, a woman-harvester shows her newly harvested red onion bulbs on a Bongabon, Nueva Ecija farm. She is paid P25 per bag of 28 kilograms of onions she harvests. Photo by Elmo Roque)

    BONGABON, NUEVA ECIJA – After three years of failures in production, due to harabas infestation and erratic weather, this town, dubbed as the country’s “Onion Basket,” is again full to the brim in harvest.

    “Our farmers here are happy again as their harvest was good and the farm gate price was relatively higher,” said Aida Laluan, high-value crops coordinator in the municipal agricultural office here. “They are also happy that there seems to be no more undue onion importation,” she added.

    She said a total of 2,914 hectares was planted here to onion this cropping season. Of this, 2,300 hectares were of the red creole variety and the rest yellow grannex. Farm gate price for the red variety was at P24 per kilogram and for the yellow grannex P18.

    “The average yield per hectare of the red creole is 421 bags while for the yellow grannex is 1,500 bags,” Laluan said. “Each bag consists of 28 kilograms.”

    Computed, the total harvest here was at least P910 million. In months to come, especially in September to November, the farmers expect to sell the red onion variety at P60 to P85 per kilogram. Most of them keep their harvest in cold storage plants at a fee of P140 per bag in three months.

    For ten days, which started on April 1, glorious mood prevailed here as the townsfolk participated in the annual “Sibuyas Festival”. The festivities were capped by a grand parade with floats adorned with onions or onion-inspired decorations.

    Harabas

    A sad note, however, was echoed here by the farmers tilling about 140 hectares in some of the 22 villages, particularly in Barangay Pesa. Their onion plants were almost completely wiped out by harabas.

    Gregorio Quiñones, provincial high-value crops coordinator, said harabas are army worms which devour the leaves of the onion plant during its vegetable up to bulb formation stage. Once attacked, about 80 to 90 percent of the plants are left in an overnight devastation.

    In the last two years, this insect pest devastated most of the onion plants here. Three years ago, unusual rains at the plant’s critical growth and development greatly dipped the farmers’ harvest.

    The use of biological control, that of using processed bacteria and powder with water and sprayed on the leaves of the plants, did wonders in solving the attack of the army worms, Quiñones said.

    He added that this town accounts for more than one half of the total onion harvest in Nueva Ecija. In 2013, the onion yield in 23 towns and cities in the province was 55 percent of the national output which was 134,169 metric tons.

    About 52 percent of this province’s onion yield that year was from this town.

    Agriculture secretary Emmanuel Piñol, in a talk with the farmers here Wednesday, said he is making available P20 million for production loans to the farmers “without any collateral, to be repaid after two to three years at a low interest rate of not more than six percent per year”.

    Piñol said he is making this town as a pilot municipality for a liberal loaning scheme.

    “You will not be required to sign voluminous document nor will be asked to present titles of your land as collateral. All we need in this scheme is a reliable credit cooperative which will serve as the conduit of the DA and identification card and passbook of farmers,” he said.

    Piñol said he has proposed in Congress the adoption of this loaning scheme, with the appropriate mechanism and huge funding. He said the government has “big money” meant to improve the plight of the farmers and fisher folk. He warned, though, against wrongdoings in this scheme.

    “We will ban you from receiving government assistance if you commit wrongdoings in this program,” Piñol said.

    Before leaving the town, Piñol handed to Mayor Ricardo Padilla and municipal agricultural officer Jackielou Gallarde pieces of farm machinery and irrigation pumps. It was witnessed by Nueva Ecija 3rd District Rep. Rossana Vergara and Regional Field Officer Roy Abaya of DA Region III.

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