WITH the constant increase in prices of agricultural products like rice and spices for months now, the Department of Agriculture in Northern Mindanao (DA-10) is blaming the business sector, specifically those that engaged in hoarding these basic commodities.

Engineer Roxana Hojas, assistant regional director of DA-10, said traders hoarding goods are to be blamed why prices are going overboard.

“If the production of these goods is already a problem, traders can also contribute to the problem by manipulating the prices of these goods,” she said.

Hojas said traders tend to hoard these products to lessen their availability in the market.

"The primary reason why prices would shoot up is when supply gets scarce," she said. In the law of demand and supply, the lesser the products are available, the demand goes up. This demand would lead to increasing the prices of commodities.

Hojas said the department “does not have the control on price regulation” because of the agricultural trade liberalization policy in the country.

"We can't control the prices in the market. The only thing we can do is to monitor these prices," she said.

Onion and ginger are now following the lead which cost up to P150 and P200 per kilo, respectively.

No hoarding

Meanwhile, suppliers of garlic, onion and ginger in Cagayan de Oro belied reports of possibly withholding stocks of spices, especially garlic.

"We do not do that [hoarding]. We are only selling what we have to sell," said Dorina Elumbida, a supplier of spices in the city.

Hojas said the Philippines is a free-market society, which gives private traders the full hold of pricing schedule provided that it is justifiable.

For rice, Celeste Gaabucayan, information officer of the National Food Authority-10 (NFA-10), said that although the lean season has come there is still enough supply of rice for the region.

"We can still provide enough NFA rice for the consumers that costs P26 to P32 only which does not go far from commercial rice in terms of quality," she told this paper earlier.

Commercial rice in the market costs P36 to P50 since May this year.

Counter-mechanism to high price

Asked of the action plan on price for basic goods shooting up, Hojas admitted they are only waiting for the directives of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.

"Honestly, we cannot do anything about this other than to monitor the price. We are just waiting for any declaration from the secretary," she said.

Hojas said they could not counter the price hike on garlic immediately like Metro Manila since garlic-producing regions are located in Northern Luzon.

For more than a month now, the national government has not given any order yet to counter the price hike in the provinces outside Metro Manila, she added.

DA central office has been fanning out rolling stores in major markets around Metro Manila to counter the high price of garlic in the market that costs P300 to P400 a kilo which DA sells between P100 to P200 per kilo.

In a report, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the government has been in the lookout for traders and other groups that possibly hoard basic goods.

Meanwhile, DA-10 has expanded its monitoring for possible profiteering activities of retail outlets in the wake of soaring prices in the market.

Hojas urged the public to patronize local garlic, which is not only cheaper, but more flavorful compared to other varieties.