NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 31 Jan) – PBBM is fast approaching a year in office. As sitting Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), he appropriated to himself the post as the food security czar of the country. Yet, in his immediate watch, the price of rice has not gone down to P20/kg as promised, but has been rising instead since then almost beyond the reach of the common man. It is estimated that the price of rice will reach P78.34/kg in 2023.
But what makes everybody cry is the catapulting prices for sibuyas (onions) sky high (P500-600/kg), several 100 times higher than the prices for fossil fuel. The price of gasoline in kg (or 1.3 liters), for instance, is only P83. This is insane because nowhere in the planet, except in the Philippines, that the price of gas is topped by any other commodity. Sibuyas makes it. Accordingly, the prices for onions in the Philippines are 470 percent higher than the global average.
The solution envisioned by the President-DA Secretary is to import a maximum of 3,960 metric tons (MT) of yellow onions and 17,100 MT of red onions for a potential total of 21,060 MT to bring down the market prices (Manila Standard, 01/17/23). The strategy is criticized by onion growers as only skin deep and does not reach and hit the real problem. For them, the onion shortage is artificial, manipulated by vested interest. Traders maliciously control the farm gate price at P8/kg; hoard volumes of stock at harvest time, and control releases to the market, dictating thus the price of the product.
During the House Committee hearing on Agriculture and Food, Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo, an economics professor at the University of the Philippines, articulated that the steep rise in prices (which has gone as high as P700) did not explain the discrepancy between last year’s supply and demand of onions, which was only at 7 percent
The DA figures show that the demand for onions was 363,937 metric tons, while its supply was around 338,354 metric tons.
Quimbo suggested that if we cannot explain price movements, then the only answer is cartels.
The Department of Agriculture – Bureau of Plant Industry Director Glenn Panganiban, who made the presentation in said committee hearing, did not confirm the existence of cartels but agreed that someone is manipulating the onion supply.
If supply is being manipulated, then there is no real shortage. Importation is not the solution to the mess. It will only further harm the onion farmers who are to begin harvesting their produce beginning the month of January onward to the full harvest season by February to May. The right thing to do is to run after and destroy the manipulators and then flood the market right away with their hoards. This will definitely stabilize the prices for onions before the peak of local harvest.
In the long haul, it may be wise for DA to devise protection to the onion growers from exploitative traders and install storage facilities in strategic locations to avoid the ruin of produce during bountiful harvest.
On the other hand, we expect draconian moves from the Chief Executive against cartels, smugglers and hoarders which threaten our food security. The huge intelligence fund of his office should be employed to put an end to these economic saboteurs.
The intelligence fund of his office should not be simply used in red-tagging suspected enemies of the regime but in stopping knee-jerk response to food security issues like that of sugar and onions. He undoubtedly needs focus. It’s high time he puts a break to his foreign junkets, which has brought nothing anyway to this blighted land but empty pledges.
PBBM should also be reminded that the campaign period was long over. This is no more the time to make promises but to deliver.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)