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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Solon: Onions to drop to P50/kilo

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A lawmaker on Friday said the price of onions will drop from the current high of P600 a kilo to only P50 a kilo, its “natural price,” as hoarders could not hold on to their stock forever and with the country’s harvest season for the prized vegetable coming.

“Everything will normalize. You can cut all my five fingers if it doesn’t go back P50,” said Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee.

Interviewed on ANC’s Headstart, Salceda said cartels were behind the abnormally high prices of onions.

“There’s a mafia in control of the ports,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. “So, if you go to Subic, I can tell you there are at least about 50 containers filled with onions which are delivered little by little.”

“Essentially what they did was predatory pricing. They came in, brought the prices down, killed the local Filipino farmers, and now they control the supply,” he added.

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To drive high prices down, the Department of Agriculture (DA), headed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has ordered the importation of 21,060 metric tons of onions, which will arrive on Jan. 27, ahead of the expected completion of the local harvest in February.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, called on the DA to immediately address the escalating cost of eggs before the government needs to import them as well.

The opposition senator also renewed her earlier call for the President to appoint a qualified Agriculture secretary who will be able to work full-time to tackle the sector’s deeply-seated problems.

Since the sugar shortage emerged, Hontiveros has been urging the President, who serves concurrently as the head of the DA, to appoint a full-time secretary who can focus on the problems hounding the agency, particularly the continuing rise in the prices of agricultural products.

Hontiveros said the DA needs to swiftly address escalating egg prices before the market takes a turn for the worse, hurting low-income households that rely on eggs as their cheapest source of protein.

The shortage and high prices of eggs are attributed to the Luzon bird flu outbreak and increasing cost of feeds. She said the administration should consider alternative solutions to this crisis other than “go-to” importation because it will not work for eggs.

Unlike chicken, pork, sugar, corn, rice, and onions, eggs are already rotten even before they arrive in the country.

“So, the easy way out of importation… if supply is lacking and prices increase, would not really work,” she said.

Hontiveros also said the DA should be prepared for the possibility that avian influenza could spread to Batangas, where most of the nation’s eggs are produced.

“The DA should be ready and its mechanism should be fast for the distribution of indemnification to chicken raisers to immediately avert the disease and stop the spread,” she said, expressing hope that what happened to hog raisers would not be repeated because of slow government action.

Meanwhile, Agri Party-list Rep. Wilbert T. Lee called for greater collaboration between the government and agriculture stakeholders to battle agricultural smuggling.

Lee issued a statement after various private sector stakeholders offered to help the government put a stop to the chronic smuggling of agricultural products, which has affected local production and contributed to the high prices of food.

“I hope the government accepts this offer, as we need all the help we can get to comprehensively address agri-smuggling in our country,” Lee said.

At the same time, Lee lauded the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), which has been working with the Department of Agriculture’s counter-intelligence team in various operations in entry ports such as Manila and Subic.

Lee said that such collaboration is the way forward, and he expressed hope that more private stakeholders would join in anti-smuggling efforts.

He said stakeholders most affected by the effects of smuggling “should be given a seat at the table.”

“The stakeholders can ensure that government’s actions are truly targeted and thus, efficient and effective,” Lee added.

The lawmaker also urged the President to institutionalize the inspectorate and enforcement division of the DA, which is currently headed by Assistant Secretary James Layug.

He said agricultural smuggling needs to be urgently addressed because it is a large factor in food insecurity.

Also on Friday, the Philippine Association of Salt Industry Networks said the government should provide more support to the country’s small salt farmers.

Gerard Khonghun, the group’s president, told ANC’s Rundown that while there were some salt producers that went out of their way to upgrade their technology for iodization, some small salt producers could not catch up to changes.

“It’s not just technology or equipment or training, it also involves some change in distribution. Since it costs more, you would have to have the consumer want to buy more expensive salt so that they could get proper iodine in their salt,” he said.

“I think this is where we need more support for the small salt farmers,” he said.

The salt iodization law, passed in 1995, mandated the addition of iodine to salt to eliminate iodine deficiency disorders among Filipinos.

But some senators said the law led to the deterioration of the industry.

“The law, instead of promoting, became a deterrent in the development of the local salt industry. It has neglected to develop new areas and invite new investors. It made all salt food grade. In 2021, it was reported that we only produced 7 percent of our salt requirements and imported 93 percent or 550,000 metric tons,” Senator Cynthia Villar said.

To help producers who couldn’t put iodize in their salt, Khonghun said there was talk of putting up cooperatives that would help them in the iodization.

But salt farmers must take initiative if they want to form cooperatives, he said.

“These did not materialize. I think we can do better this time around,” Khonghun said.

“They need to see the benefits of iodization not just for the public but also for their own business. More incentives in this area, and I think more direct assistance would be called for.”

The Palace earlier said the administration is working to modernize the salt industry and boost the local production of salt.

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