16 February 2023, Philippines: Since mid-2022, the price of the humble red onion has been increasing in the Philippines. In December of last year, the price surged to around 700 pesos ($12.80; £10.40) per kilogram. Making onions more expensive than the equivalent amount of beef for Filipinos.
A staple of Philippine cooking, the country consumes approximately 17,000 metric tons of onions every month.
A myriad of shortages, plant pests, climate, inflation, and importation have caused the price to soar. This has left rural farmers most at risk.
Pest infestations have ravaged onion farmers’ crops
Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is a devastating invasive crop pest. Since its arrival in the Philippines in 2016, farmers have struggled to control it. Onion farmers have suffered huge losses.
In Bayambang, a town in the northwest of the country, around 1,500 ha is dedicated to onion farming. Fall armyworm infestations have destroyed over 800 ha of onion plantations. This has left the town officially under a state of calamity.
Farmers resort to the overuse of chemical pesticides putting them into debt. However, this has caused the pest to build up resistance. Farmers then buy more pesticide. They are trapped in an ineffective cycle they cannot afford.
Farmers are vulnerable to climate change
At the last harvest, farmers had to sell their onions at a loss. Or, excess crop was left to rot because no suitable storage was available.
Tons of rotten onions were left on roadsides and riverbanks. This is detrimental to the environment and is yet another loss of income for smallholder farmers.
Farmers need support post-harvest too. Without consideration for the entire value chain, the glut in onions went to waste.
Livelihoods at risk
With many farmers still struggling to cope with the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, the case of the onion represents the story of many smallholder farmers.
Rural communities are the most vulnerable to climate shocks and pest invasions. Without sustainable support, they rely on harmful pesticides and find themselves in a cycle of debt.
Access to reliable farmer advisory services can be a powerful tool out of poverty for smallholders. Rural communities benefit from increased knowledge and tools, links to new technology, and access to better finance and markets for their crops.
It remains to be seen if onion prices in the Philippines will stabilize with the imports and the pending harvest.
Also Read: Developing Agricultural Research Institutes
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