In the Philippines, onions are now more expensive than meat

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SRising onion prices in the Philippines led agriculture authorities to announce over the weekend that they will import about 22,000 tonnes of the vegetable through March to boost the country’s dwindling domestic supply and stem rising costs.

Onions are a staple of Southeast Asian cuisine, often combined with garlic as the base of many dishes. The country’s average monthly demand for vegetables is about 17,000 metric tons.

But as of Monday, January 9, red and white onions in the Philippines were selling for up to 600 pesos ($10.88) per kilogram, or about $5 per pound, based on monitoring by the Department of Agriculture. Market prices in the Manila area.

According to the same market estimates, it is about three times more expensive than chicken and 25-50% more expensive than pork or beef. A kilo of onions costs more than the minimum wage for a day’s work in the Philippines.

What caused the price increase?

Philippine lawmakers are investigating the cause of the outbreak and believe President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is agriculture secretary, is “directly responsible.”

Some price increases are caused by forces beyond personal control. For many reasons, including the Russia-Ukraine war, supply chain issues and severe weather events, global inflation is putting pressure on food prices everywhere.

Read more: In the UK, food price inflation has risen to record levels

Inflation in the Philippines hit a 14-year high in December, accounting for 0.3 percentage points of an 8.1% rise in onion consumer prices, National Statistician Dennis Mapa said in a Jan. 5 briefing.

But it’s not just inflation.

The business sector accuses the agriculture ministry of failing to make accurate supply forecasts despite last year’s warnings. Agriculture officials have warned that a local variety of red onion will cost just 140 pesos ($2.54) in early August, when onions and garlic may be in short supply. . However, while Filipino farmers have warned that consumption will increase during the holidays, the department has objected to imports, insisting that the available supply will be sufficient.

Agriculture officials suspect that other local crises such as domestic price manipulation are also responsible for the spike in onion prices. Restoperes said on December 13 that the Department of Agriculture believed a criminal syndicate had collected the supply of onions and that an investigation was underway.

How is the government doing?

On December 30, the Department of Commerce of the Philippines set a “suggested retail price” of 250 pesos ($4.53) per kilogram of onions by order of the President. But the Commerce Department can charge profiteers who set prices above the SRP, but it’s hardly enforceable. Despite the price ceiling, the cost of onions remained high.

Last month, customs authorities seized about $362,000 worth of smuggled red onions from China hidden in bread and pastry boxes, and an additional $309,000 worth of smuggled white onions in containers believed to contain clothing.

Marcos Jr. said on December 29 that the government is looking for a legal way to sell smuggled goods to address the supply shortage. However, some of the smuggled onions turned out to be unfit for consumption. Local news network GMA reported that some batches were found to contain traces of bacteria such as E. coli and pesticides, which had to be discarded.

Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Rex Estoperes told Bloomberg on Sunday that the newly announced imports would be a “temporary solution,” with new shipments arriving no later than the first week of February, before harvest. National will not start again between March and May.

The Philippines also recently signed a bilateral agreement with China to increase cooperation in agriculture and trade. It is unclear whether onion imports will be part of such cooperation.

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