Manufactured Crisis

Where did the onion go and where did it come from? Why the price of this essential every day vegetable underwent fluctuations and why did it become hardly affordable for a good majority of consumers?

These are the questions the exporters are evading by putting the blame on the retailers. If retailers had a free hand in causing price fluctuations, what was the government doing and where were all the price control measures? False demand, false scarcity, and black marketing have often caused manufactured crises of essential commodities in Pakistan. Turns out, checks and balances are weak and traders and exporters know the loopholes. Pakistan earned an extraordinary $210 million in onion exports in the ongoing fiscal year. For the domestic consumer, however, onion was available at a high price of 300-350 per kg.

In a similar situation to the sugar crisis of the past, consumers claim excessive export of onions has made local prices skyrocket. Coming right after the wheat import disaster, this developing situation points to the weak system in place to prevent this. If commodity after commodity – crucially all basic food items – is being subjected to such price fluctuations, the government needs to take it seriously.

Even if the importers/exporters are mostly private entities, the invisible hand of government must still be overlooking them. What goes outside the country and what comes inside must be strictly and sufficiently regulated. In this case, if there was enough onion to export, why did the retailers import onion from Afghanistan and Iran to fulfill the domestic market’s needs? The government needs to do its job and protect consumers. We do not live in an ideal, food-abundant era. The supplies are limited and if any malfunction occurs, it does not take long to turn into a crisis of demand and price hikes. About time that various departments of the government learn from the past experience of similar crises and do things right.

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