The Department of Agriculture (DA) plans to stage a massive, nationwide inspection of all cold chain facilities storing onions to check if there are businessmen hoarding the commodity.
Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban said the DA cannot fully ascertain the situation on the ground with inconsistent data fed by the onion industry along with data from farmers, traders, and cold storage owners.
He admitted the DA is being fed conflicting reports.
“Some say there are many onions in the country, while others say we do not have enough supply. If we do have the volume, or considering we have remaining supply, the institutional buyers will take up the entire volume and not the government,” he said Wednesday.
Curiously, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) – an agency under the DA — on Wednesday assured an adequate supply of onions in the country amid spiking market prices.
In a Laging Handa public briefing, BPI spokesperson Jose Diego Roxas said although there is a steady supply of onion for now, the market price is hitting between P160 to P200 per kilogram for red onion, while local white onion prices range from P150 to P200/kg.
“The supply of our onion is enough, whether red or white [onion]. For the white onion, we expect its supply to last until mid-July,” he said.
However, the bureau’s Director Glenn Panganiban told a congressional hearing the government is “considering” importing 8,000 metric tons of white onions this year to stabilize prices.
The agency estimated that the country has 12,843 metric tons of white onions as of April, which will last until September. Stocks of red onions meanwhile were estimated to be at 98,394 metric tons, which may be sufficient to cover local demand until November, the BPI chief said.
“What we’re looking at is to have a buffer of 2 months (supply),” Panganiban told the House Committee on Agriculture and Food on Wednesday.
Food producers, on the other hand, are worried that the planned 22,000 metric tons (MT) of onion will not be enough to meet the 70,000 to 80,000-tons demand for the year.
“If the government is planning to import 20,000 (metric tons), it can’t be helped that the price of onion will shoot up again. It will not be enough,” said Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc. (PCAFI) president Danilo Fausto.
He added that the food sector is managing the shortage and the demand by trying “skillful ways that are imaginable to users,” like reducing their consumption of the commodity and using alternatives.
Congress is currently investigating the fiasco surrounding onion supply and the planned 22,000 MT importation, since some legislators are under the impression there is collusion between some government officials and importers who were allowed to hoard imported onions.
The legislative branch again questioned how the DA was unable to quickly respond to the onion supply problem that could have prevented the local situation from spiraling into a full-blown crisis, with prices of onion spiking to as much as P240 per kilo last December.
Currently, onion sells at a range of P230 per kilo in major supermarkets and groceries. Smaller supermarket formats stopped selling onions, the industry said.
Meanwhile, the Cold Chain Association of the Philippines (CCAP) reiterated its call on the government to have a counterpart program that will support not only an increase in onion output but also an efficient cold chain blueprint that will manage proper storage of locally-produced, as well as imported onions.