Onions, garlic, salt production insufficient, DA warns

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 30) — Local farm output of onions, garlic, and salt will not be enough to meet the expected demand until the last quarter of the year, Agriculture officials warned on Tuesday.

Latest estimates made by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its attached agencies — the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) — are all in the red.

From Central Luzon to Calabarzon, Mimaropa down to Visayas, the sufficiency level for onions fell to 0% in July. Officials expect the scarcity to last until November this year before recovering to 57%-sufficient by December, when expected domestic harvest is at 12,416 metric tons.

Before the lean months that began as early as June, onion sufficiency level was in the triple digits — at 689% coverage at best in March, a harvest month.

"We have no importation of yellow onions since January… The rest is local stocks," BPl Assistant Director Ariel Bayot told lawmakers who convened a committee hearing on Tuesday.

"While harvest that was harvested [sic] from April or March was computed to last only three to four months, that's why supply is zero," he added.

Even the Ilocos Region, the garlic country, is not producing enough of this major spice. The Philippines is short of garlic by 42 days this quarter ending September, and by 52 days in the last quarter of 2022, according to the agency's data.

"We are not sufficient at all pag-dating po sa garlic [when it comes to garlic]. We are dependent on importation," DA Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista told the same committee hearing.

Agencies that work with coastal villages, meanwhile, are moving to find ways to help salt producers plug the scarcity.

"As far as local production [of salt] is concerned, admittedly we have not produced enough," Evangelista said, adding that technology and competition with cheap salt imports are some of the issues that salt producers struggle with.

The government has initiated dialogues with fastfood chains, which have already substituted white onions with other vegetables.

"We have already spoken with fastfood chains who are big onion users and we are going to start contract growing. Of course, protecting the farmers that their price will not be sacrificed," Evangelista said.

Chicken and eggs, fish and camote chips

Lawmakers also want to get to the bottom of the chicken and egg story.

According to data from the DA, the Philippines has a 40-day buffer for chicken supply this quarter until December, but the surge in egg prices has left legislators scratching their heads.

Eggs are being sold for as much as ₱10 in some supermarkets, more than double the price weeks ago.

As for potatoes and camote, there is ample supply after at least one camote chips maker claimed there is shortage.

There are enough rice, fish, and pork too, according to the DA and BFAR. But the stock is buffered by imports — a sad reminder of the country's reliance on food imports, and of the decades-old neglect of its agriculture sector.

Lawmakers have no prosecution powers but they have the power of the purse, dictating how much money will go to food security and agriculture.