Tuesday, July 16, 2024

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FIRING LINE: Onions out to make us cry again

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

Right under our sweaty noses in this sweltering heat, onion prices are on the rise again. It’s not like we’ve been through this before, right? Just a few months ago, we witnessed onion prices soaring to seven times the world average, and now we seem strapped right back on the rollercoaster ride of uncontrolled price hikes.

At the center of it all, as usual, is the Department of Agriculture (DA) — enabled by a president who heads it to be just as puzzled as he is. From P70 in May 2022, they still don’t know how it has jumped to P200 per kilo in several markets around Metro Manila just this week. That’s a 67% hike from last month’s price. So it’s hard to tell what brings us, consumers, to a flood of tears — the onions or the uselessness of the department?

Now, the DA’s brilliant plan is to “study the timing of importation.” Yes, “study it,” because apparently, they haven’t figured out that importing onions when local farmers are harvesting might not be the brightest idea.

Meantime, sauteeing with onions is starting to feel like a luxury reserved for the elite, and the strange thing about this is that the government is unsure why.

Agriculture Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista acknowledged that today’s prevailing price of P200 a kilo of red and white onions is a “cause of concern,” given that the stock of onions in the country is more than enough.

That should be comforting, but instead, it’s mind-boggling. Evangelista is practically saying that our onion stockpile should be enough to keep us crying for months to come because of its high prices on retail.

If that’s the case, then Mr. President, honorable secretary of the DA, answer us this: Is someone hoarding onions again?

According to the farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), the recent price surge isn’t due to a shortage. Farmgate prices ranged from P50 to P80 per kilo during the peak harvest season. So, logically, retail prices should be around P140 to P170 per kilo. But no, that would be too sensible. So instead, we’re stuck with prices that defy reason and basic economics, as SINAG head Rosendo So points out.

Farmers, SINAG said, are not exactly benefiting from the surge in prices either. They’re in the same boat as us consumers who don’t stand to benefit from this messed up agriculture situation. Maybe it’s the traders and cold storage owners who are bound to make a killing of this whole situation.

Friends, it’s inexcusable if we see a repeat of last year’s onion price spike when the bulb costs more than the weight of gold. Especially now that this Marcos administration should have already learned its lesson from that artificial storage. Or, perhaps, there’s an artificial shortage in common sense and a hidden agenda with select traders making tons of profit?

At this point, I’d rather be premature in thinking that someone is trying to make a quick buck off our 110-million nation of unsuspecting consumers than wait for some crook to laugh his way to the bank at our expense.
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