WHY IS THERE AN ONION SHORTAGE?
It is not the first time the Philippines has experienced a shortage of a basic food staple that caused prices to spike – sugar, salt and rice have all been hit in the past.
Poor yields, high costs, insufficient investment in irrigation and machinery, lack of access to cold storage facilities and farm-to-market roads, and crop-destroying typhoons have long impacted the sector.
Pest outbreaks as well as soaring oil and fertiliser prices since Russia invaded Ukraine last year have only added to farmers’ woes.
Despite government pledges to boost domestic food production, the country relies heavily on imports to feed its growing population – but tariffs fuel inflation.
President Ferdinand Marcos appointed himself agriculture secretary to overhaul the near-moribund industry, which accounts for about a quarter of the country’s employment but only makes up 10 per cent of gross domestic product.
“Our agriculture sector is significantly challenged,” said Geny Lapina, agricultural economics and management professor at the University of the Philippines.
Every Filipino eats an average of 2.34 kilograms of onions per year and theoretically the country produces enough to meet the demand, official data shows.
But since the tropical climate only allows one planting per year of the rain-averse crop, stocks are consumed or spoiled well before the next harvest.
The recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, which allowed the resumption of food-focused festivals and family gatherings for Christmas, triggered soaring demand for onions.