I have chosen, as my last blog for the year, to talk about onions. What? I can hear you exclaim, dear Reader. No looking backward and seeing what has been accomplished or not accomplished? No looking forward to see what has yet to be done? That’s what everyone is doing!
Precisely, dear Watson. That’s why we will not be doing it. I can always fill in the gaps, if there are any, in future blogs. But onions are a household necessity, like salt, or like garlic. Almost any dish in Filipino households starts with sauteing, and sauteing needs onions, and yes, garlic. And so the subject is dear to our hearts.
The first thing I want to share with you, Reader, is that come the new year – that is January and onwards until March and possibly until June, the prices of onions will have to drop because of the incoming harvests. So that is a load off our minds. And I hope that for the rest of next year, the Department of Agriculture (DA) will not repeat what it did this year, which resulted in Filipinos suffering the nightmare of no yellow onions (unless smuggled) and exceedingly steep onion prices for red onions because of the shortage.
What did the Department of Agriculture have to do with anything? Well, according to the president of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food (PCAFI), Danilo V. Faustino, as reported in BusinessWorld, the DA’s projections of supply and demand for onions were wrong — they did not see the shortage coming. Faustino attributed this to the transfer of leadership, “so maybe they did not notice that”. Hmmm. Could it be that the sugar fiasco in the DA earlier this year, which resulted in the wrong heads rolling, scared the other bureaucrats, so they did not want to stick their necks out on the onion situation?
We will never know. But one thing is for certain (thanks to Google): sometime toward the end of last August, in a presentation before Congress, the DA did project that the country’s onion supply this year would be more than enough to meet total demand (emphasis mine). Not only that: in their fearless forecast, the DA estimated that total supply of onions, including imported volume, would be at 343,427 Metric Tons (MT), more than enough to meet 288,344 MT total demand, so that the country would end 2022 with an ending stock of 26, 828 MT of onion, sufficient to last for 37 days.
See how precise that is! And how confident! No wonder Filipinos were caught with our pants down. Also, I’m not sure how their arithmetic works, but I was taught that end of year supply, minus end of year demand equals end of year stocks. Which means, given the above figures, that the yearend stocks should be 55,083 MT, not 26 thousand.
In any case, as any one can see, that is not what happened. We have a shortage, period. The newspapers were reporting that the price of onions had gone up to P420 a kilo. In Magallanes Village in Makati, it is P500. Good grief.
And BTW, in that same presentation last August, the DA also projected that we would, by yearend, suffer a 16-day shortage of garlic, using equally precise estimates: a total year-end supply (including imports) of 83,000 MT, and a total demand of 146,850MT, for a shortfall of 63,650 MT. And this time, our computations are the same. But the garlic shortage did not happen, or if it did, I certainly am not feeling it.
My point is that something is terribly wrong with the current DA. Not that it did not have its problems before, but compared to the present dispensation, the DA BBB (Before BongBong) at least had started a Philippine Onion Industry Roadmap 2021-2025, and it also published an “Investment Guide for Onion”. The DA BBB were of the opinion that onion-growing was a sunrise industry, so to speak, and had figured out all the angles—it underwent all the consultations, pointed out all the problems , made all the recommendations to ensure the success of the onion industry.
Did you know, for example, Reader, that a 1997 study showed that the Philippines has a comparative advantage in onions? That means, essentially, that we should be a net exporter of onions. Did you know that a summary of a one-hectare average cost and returns of onions in 2019 shows that the net returns per hectare is P237, 681 (compare that to rice, where the 2021 net return per cropping season is P19,593 )? That the net profit-cost ratio is 2.15, which means that the ROI (return on investment) is 215%?
I don’t know how many other crops show such great profitability. But the present DA seems to be in suspended animation as its current Secretary, the President, traipses around the globe. No vision. We need real leadership in the DA.
May we meet the coming year with fortitude and resolve to transform our country. And that transformation begins with ourselves.