The Philippines’ agriculture department has issued permits to import 5,775 tons of onions for delivery this month or just over a quarter of its planned purchase volume which may not be enough to boost domestic supply to tame high prices.

That volume represents around 27% of the 21,060 tons of onions the Southeast Asian nation was earlier planning to buy overseas. The US Department of Agriculture said Thursday the country is unlikely to fill the entire volume due to the tight requirements including delivery before the end of this month. 

Import permits were issued to 92 importers to bring in 4,525 tons of red onions and 50 permits given to ship in 1,250 tons of yellow onions, data from the Department of Agriculture showed on Monday. The import licenses were issued between Jan. 9 and 13, with the agricultural commodity scheduled to arrive by Jan. 27.

Prices of onions surpassed those of meat this month amid tighter supply, helping lift inflation to 14-year highs and making the otherwise kitchen fixture scarce in many households. Red onions were selling for as much as 550 pesos ($10.08) a kilogram, more than double the price of chicken and nearly 40% more expensive than pork, based on retail prices monitored by the agriculture department as of Jan. 13.

Onion imports dropped more than 70% from a year ago to 29,707 tons in 2022, shrinking total supply by 16% to 268,269 tons, based on government data cited by Senator Cynthia Villar during a Senate hearing on soaring onion prices on Monday. Agriculture Assistant Secretary Rex Estoperez said last week the proposed import volume of 21,060 tons would be good for a month and to bring down prices. 

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who also sits as the agriculture secretary, said the country was “forced to import” onions given the wide gap between domestic production and demand. But he said there is a need to boost local production of crops such as onion and sugar to cut reliance on imports, according to a transcript of his media interview on Sunday.

Asked whether he has plans to appoint an agriculture secretary, Marcos said: “When this is fixed, when we have the systems in place, yes, yes.”

--With assistance from Andreo Calonzo.