Onions are so expensive in the Philippines that they are smuggled in.
The humble onion is a key ingredient in nearly every Filipino dish, from salads to stews. However, in the Philippines, the vegetable now costs nearly three times as much as chicken.
According to the country’s Department of Agriculture, red and white onions were selling for as much as 600 Philippine pesos (US$11) per kilogram (2.2 lbs) on Monday, compared to 220 pesos ($4) per kilogram for chicken.
Even beef brisket is 30% cheaper by weight than onions, whose price per kilogram has risen to more than the daily minimum wage.
Joey Salceda, a resident economist in the Philippine House of Representatives, lamented on Sunday that the country now has the “world’s most expensive domestic onion prices,” and Filipinos have taken to social media to express their displeasure.
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The price increase comes after a series of super typhoons hit the Philippines last year, destroying crops worth tens of billions of pesos. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the Southeast Asian country has been grappling with soaring inflation in recent months, with consumer prices rising 8.1% in December, reaching a 14-year high.
The country’s ombudsman and lawmakers have both launched investigations into the record prices.
Onions have become so popular that they are being smuggled into the country.
According to the state-run Philippine News Agency, customs officers seized $310,000 in white onions hidden in a clothing shipment in their latest bust on December 23. Customs also seized $364,000 in red onions from China hidden in pastry boxes two days earlier.
Senator Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian has proposed forming a task force to combat smuggling.
“Smuggling harms the economy in more ways than one, including revenue loss for the government due to uncollected tariffs and duties. Smuggling also devastates the market dynamics of locally produced goods “he said in a statement released on Tuesday. “To effectively address this issue and protect local producers, we need strong enforcement of existing laws.”
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. stated that he hoped to find a way to sell the smuggled onions in order to “reduce supply problems” in the country.
According to CNN Philippines, President Marcos, who is also the secretary of agriculture, approved the import of 21,060 metric tons of onions this week, with the shipment expected to arrive by January 27.
“Rising onion prices are one of the drivers of inflation in the country, so we have decided to recommend onion importation,” Estoperez told CNN, adding that Filipinos consume approximately 20,000 metric tons of the vegetable each month.
The imports were a “temporary solution,” he said, adding that no further purchases were planned because the peak harvest season is in February, which could push prices back down.
According to Nicholas Mapa, a senior economist for ING Bank in the Philippines, importing onions is already too little, too late because prices have already skyrocketed.
“In the short term, we can only hope that increased supply, whether through importation or… local harvest, will alleviate price pressures. We are expecting a harvest in the first quarter, which should help alleviate the situation “He went on to say that the industry should improve storage to reduce waste during typhoons.