A price tag for P300 per kilo of red onions is on display in front of Jackieline Villaceran's store at the New Public Market in Brgy. San Jose, Puerto Princesa City.

When it comes to the dishes that we like to eat, the taste is of the utmost importance, and one of the vegetables that we frequently use to deliver that essential aroma is the onion.

Many would agree that the flavor of the onions is as great as its value in the kitchen. Soups, sauces, salsas, curries, sandwiches, burgers, grilled menu, and just about everything else, if not all, cannot be cooked without it.

But what if its growing season becomes difficult, causing its price to skyrocket to unaffordable levels?

For the past 10 years, Jackieline Villaceran has been selling vegetables and fruits at the new public market in Puerto Princesa City. Onions are among those she sells because they are essential needs.

Villaceran expressed concern about the steep rise in onion prices since late October, which has now peaked at P280 to P300 per kilo. She never imagined that prices for her supplies from Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, and Mindoro provinces could reach this level.

Villaceran sees the factors influencing red onion price increases as consumer reliance on local supplies and year-round demand. She added that as a market vendor who is paying for her space and manpower, selling P300 is the safest rate to go a little beyond breakeven.

“Ngayon lang talaga tumaas nang husto. Last year, hindi talaga nagtaas masyado kasi may imported. Ngayon kasi biglang humigpit talaga, dahil puro na local harvest ang kinukuhaan natin, yon ang dahilan kung bakit tumataas nang husto,” she explained.

P300 is an unusually high price for a red onion, but she said that it is the lowest price available at the moment, as some vendors were already selling at P320 or P350.

She recalled that in 2021, the highest price of red onion per kilo is sold for P180.

“Ang sibuyas, yan ang panghatak mo ng tao–kahit kaunti lang ang tubo sa sibuyas basta mabilis [maubos]. Ang sibuyas, matagal na ang one week na reseko (shrinkage) niya, mataas ang reseko kaya kailangan ‘yong tamang mapaubos mo lang,” she added.

Expensive, but not good quality
According to Dr. Romeo Cabungcal of the Office of Provincial Agriculture (OPA), the supplies currently on the market are expensive but of poor quality.

He believes the prices are high because the harvest season for red onions in the producing provinces has yet to begin. The planting season lasts from September to January, with the harvest peaking in March and April.

“It is not yet the harvest season for onions, siguro yong mga naitago na onions in time for the storage ay medyo kakaunti na. And comes the harvest season, I think mapupunan na naman at may posibilidad na bababa,” he said.

He is also of the opinion that large storage facilities are still required to increase production.

Cabungcal thinks this to be the case affecting prices because such facilities may assist in increasing the number of producers who are assured that their supplies will be stored.

Villaceran agrees, adding it is indeed a factor influencing the price trend and, consequently, how much onions cost to the general public.

She remains hopeful that the ongoing harvest of local onions will help to lower the price.

“Kapag panahon ng anihan, ang malalaking businessman, ini-storage nila yan. Kapag may time na katulad ng ganito, nadidiktahan nila kung anong price ang gusto nila. Nakakalungkot na parang wala kaming magawa. Kapag hindi ka kukuha, wala kang paninda,” she said.

“I don’t know yet kung itong arrival ay bababa na kasi mataas pa rin. Pero, hopefully, kapag nagsige-sige ang ani, baka bumaba rin,”she added.

Cooks in tears
Villaceran observed that consumers are forced to adapt to the price trend simply because they can do nothing about it.

Many people are now purchasing smaller onions in an effort to reduce their food budget.

Restaurant proprietors like Mackie Peneyra of House of Thai by Mackie’s are also finding it difficult to keep up with the rising cost of red onion. As a result, they are forced to reduce the amount of red onion in the dishes they serve.

“Our restaurant is forced to cope with the high prices by lessening our servings with red onion instead of pricing our menu higher. Additionally, we are currently using spring onions as an alternative because it is much cheaper and also to maintain the quality of our food,” she told Palawan News.

However, not all diners, such as Bersian Restaurant, which specializes in Mediterranean cuisine, can find an onion substitute. It is essential for the majority of the restaurant’s recipes, particularly the salad.

Chef Rick Samonte, in charge of the daily market, noticed that the price increased threefold, which is now affecting their sales. It was the only time he had bought at that high price from old rates of P60 or P70 in their four years of operation.

“Mauuwi siya sa expenses, tataas ang expenses namin dahil sa presyo ng onion. Hindi rin namin pwede i-compromise ang standard ng niluluto namin, kailangan namin tiyagain. Para lang makasiguro kami na hindi kami mabubulukan ng onion, binibili namin ay per kilo na lang ngayon kasi dati per bag,” he said.

Holiday scare
The OPA doesn’t know what the prices will be this Christmas and New Year when demand is sure to be high, but Cabungcal doesn’t rule out a cost increase.

Aside from limited supply and high demand, transportation costs and other factors drive up the price of red onion in a non-producing province like Palawan.

“Hindi ko alam but then before ‘yong naririnig natin, there will be talaga ang prices nito ay tataas pa because of the demand for the commodity,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has stated that it is evaluating the condition of the onion inventory in advance of making a decision regarding the possibility of importing the commodity.

DA stated that its prediction is that if there is an increase in supply, there will be a decrease in price. They are supposedly anticipating an increase in the supply as December comes to a close.

Onion cultivation in Palawan
Based on OPA’s records, the majority of red onions exported to Palawan originate from Manila and other provinces in the Luzon part of the Philippines.

In Palawan, only a handful of farmers are participating in the demonstration phase of testing the viability and suitability of growing onions in the province’s climate and soil conditions. This testing is being done in order to determine whether or not onions can be successfully grown in Palawan.

“Meron naman tayong mga area na suitable for onion. If you will look into the soil condition ng Occidental Mindoro after rice farming, ang second crop nila ay onion. Ginagawa ‘yon during dry season, I think meron naman mga potential na area sa atin pero hindi ganoon katulad sa Mindoro,” he said.

Due to the town of Narra’s extensive rice-growing area, some demonstration farming has been done there. It is also beneficial to consider Quezon and Rizal’s potential, he said.

He clarified that the OPA’s program for high-value crops, not the price increase, was what inspired the study’s conduct.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean because there is a high price but tinitingnan din ang potential for onion production. Kasi even though mag-low price ‘yan, in demand naman ‘yong onion kasi lahat ng household ay ginagamit ang onion,” he said.

Villaceran maintains her optimism that an onion farming venture will be launched to make use of the agricultural land in Palawan despite the fact that it is not known for producing onions.

‘With the support of the government, more programs pagdating sa pagtatanim ng sibuyas, umaasa kasi tayo sa labas. Feeling ko kapag napag-aralan, potential din naman kasi sayang ang lupa ng Palawan,” she said.