Mangosteens, an indicator of inclusive growth?

When doing grocery shopping I usually buy fruits first – I worry when my kids don’t have fruits in their daily diet – and then work around the remaining budget amount after deducting the price of the fruits. One Saturday at the supermarket in my usual spot by the fruit stands, I was thrilled there were mangosteens. I take to them because it’s supposedly good for the skin, perfect for my kids and myself of course. The price, I knew it was usually high for this particular fruit but I was shocked that it cost P500+ a kilo (excluding 10% VAT. Have I said that the VAT for basic commodities is totally insane, given that poverty incidence in this country is high? The proponent mistook Philippines for USA.) and only around 15 or so pieces makes a kilo. Has DA just declared mangosteens an exotic nearly-extinct fruit? I thought it preposterous that mangosteens, native of and grown in this country, cost an arm and a limb and that sellers actually expect to have happy buyers at such a price.

Supposing I had a thousand peso food budget and if I bought a kilo of the fruit, I’d then be left with P400 which would only bring in a dozen eggs, a kilo of chicken, and bread. And these food stuff don’t even make a dish! What if my budget was less than a dollar which is the daily subsistence for the poor? I couldn’t even buy a quarter of the fruit! I could only put in a can of sardines and half a dozen salt bread (and the VAT for the stuff) inside my food basket! Inclusive growth? Poverty alleviation? Food security?

A few years back, in Bangkok, I remember a colleague who bought boxes of the fruit to bring home because it is so cheap there (I had them daily there). Actually, it makes good financial sense to go abroad only to get boxes of the fruit because it would cost you less overall.

This, on the ground, at the level of families and end-consumers, is not inclusive growth. If I’m not mistaken, all the costs incurred for bringing the produce to market are dumped on the end-consumer and because there’s (perhaps) only a single producer for domestic consumption it monopolized the price. In Mindanao, where the fruit is grown, it costs much less there and if my mathematics’ right it would’ve bloated to several hundreds when it arrives in Luzon. But this is insane because compared to imports local produce don’t get to go through customs where taxes could be exorbitant. And producing the fruit is supposedly Mindanao’s comparative advantage (hence should sell it cheaper than the rest of the islands)!

What this economy needs is not more malls – which hijack (through strategically-timed sales during pay days) earners who have yet to learn the value of saving and investing – but efficiency in the supply chain in order that costs could be brought down.

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