Even before his onions are fully grown, Philippine farmer Luis Angeles races to harvest the crop and cash in on eye-watering prices for a vegetable that has become a luxury item in the country.
Onion prices have soared in recent months, reaching as high as 800 pesos (nearly Rs 1,200) a kilogram in Manila supermarkets, making them more expensive than chicken or pork.
Some restaurants have stripped the staple ingredient from dishes, while many families already grappling with the highest inflation in 14 years have stopped eating them.
— Dennis Datu (@Dennis_Datu) January 23, 2023
To meet demand and push retail prices back below 200 pesos (Rs 300), the government has approved the importation of 21,000 tonnes of onions and faces calls to crack down on traders suspected of hoarding.
But prices remain stubbornly high and onion farmers like Angeles have been harvesting earlier than usual to reap the windfall.
"What is happening is historic," said Angeles, 37, as his workers pulled undersized red and white bulbs out of the soil near the northern town of Bongabon, the country's self-proclaimed "onion capital".
"This is the first time that prices have reached this level."
When he began harvesting in December, Angeles received as much as 250 pesos (About Rs 380) per kilogram for his crop.
By the time his onions reached Manila supermarket shelves, the price had more than doubled, exceeding the daily minimum wage.
"I told my family, 'Let's just smell the onion instead of eating it'," Candy Roasa, 56, said as she walked through a market in the capital where she has seen vendors selling bulbs the size of a small child's fist for as much as 80 pesos (Rs 120) each.
As onion memes spread on social media, the humble vegetable has become a symbol of wealth in the poverty-afflicted country.
At least one bride used pricey bulbs instead of flowers for her wedding bouquet.
Philippine Airlines crew members on a recent flight from the Middle East were busted trying to smuggle a few bags of the pungent commodity through Manila's airport.
— Granny (@The_PinkWarrior) January 8, 2023
As the news spread, Indians have been taking to social media to point out the stark difference between the countries and the availability of onions.
— Dinesh Kar (@DineshKar5) February 25, 2023
Onion prices in the Philippines skyrocket (around $ 13 per kilo), while farmers sell here at $ 0.012.
GoI should start exporting onions @PMOIndia .
Pls convey this message to higher authority. @Iyervval @ARanganathan72 @RajatSethi86 @Shehzad_Ind @DrSJaishankar @smitaprakash https://t.co/PdT20FdYfa
— Narottam Mukherjee (@naro7134) February 25, 2023
Meanwhile, Philippine 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 percent 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 spoil well before the next harvest.
(With inputs from AFP)