Rosendo So, president of the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), warned of another fertilizer scam in the offing as he criticized the timing of Memorandum Order No. 32, issued by DA Undersecretary for rice industry development Leocadio Sebastian. Philippine Star / Kriz John Rosales


MANILA — The Department of Agriculture has come under fire after a farmers’ group revealed that the biofertilizer being pushed by the DA for distribution is overpriced at P2,000 per bag as the University of Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) offers it at only P500 per bag.

Rosendo So, president of the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), warned of another fertilizer scam in the offing as he criticized the timing of Memorandum Order No. 32, issued by DA Undersecretary for rice industry development Leocadio Sebastian.

Based on MO 32, the DA is eyeing some savings since the cost of biofertilizer per hectare is only P2,000 compared to P4,000 per hectare if urea – the most concentrated solid nitrogen fertilizer – is used.

However, contrary to the premise presented in the MO issued by Sebastian, So insisted: “Urea is still cheaper compared to biofertilizer. If the DA really wants to use biofertilizer, the UPLB has it at P500 per bag.”

“The memo should be changed as urea fertilizer now only ranges between P1,200 and P1,300,” he added, noting how prices of urea have already gone down by half.

SINAG has also called on the DA to give farmers the choice between urea fertilizer and biofertilizer, so instead of distributing fertilizer bags, it should distribute vouchers.

“Vouchers should be given instead so that the farmers will have a choice if they want urea or biofertilizer. The farmers should decide on what to use to increase their production,” So said.

Last Thursday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed a resolution seeking an inquiry into the DA’s order to use biofertilizer.

“There is a need to investigate this matter to prevent another Fertilizer Fund Scam that happened almost 20 years ago in 2004, where around P728 million in fertilizer funds of the Department of Agriculture earmarked for the purchase and distribution of fertilizers to farmer beneficiaries were allegedly diverted and used primarily for the re-election efforts of a former president,” Hontiveros said.

At a press briefing in Malacañang last Friday, Sebastian said the memorandum order was issued to avoid another “fertilizer scam.”

He said the order aims to guide the DA regional offices on how to select and distribute biological fertilizers to increase yield and promote growth in rice output.

Palace assurance

Yesterday, Malacañang assured the public of transparency in the implementation of MO 32, the Implementing Guidelines on the Distribution and Use of Biofertilizers, for the purpose of boosting rice production.

Sebastian had already noted that the country’s rice production has been facing challenges, such as the high cost of fertilizer.

With the promotion of the “balanced fertilization,” he said farmers would be using organic fertilizer as basal with biofertilizer to improve the growth of rice seedlings.

Balanced fertilization involves the use of organic fertilizer, biofertilizer and inorganic fertilizer, the official said.

Sebastian said the country’s continued use of inorganic fertilizer is “unsustainable” and the production is “plateauing.”

Meanwhile, SINAG’s So said that retail prices of rice are expected to go down by August amid the spike in the cost of the staple food.

“This season, the price of rice is really high, even internationally. But at the end of August or early September, we expect a decrease as the cost of fertilizer went down by almost half from P2,500 to P2,600 to P1,250 to P1,300 per bag,” he said.

Prices of rice went up by P5 per kilo, based on monitoring of the DA. The retail prices of local regular milled rice ranged between P34 and P42 per kilo; local well-milled rice, between P39 and P46 per kilo; local premium rice, between P42 and P49 per kilo; and local special rice, between P48 and P60 per kilo.

Imported regular milled rice ranged between P37 and P44 per kilo; imported well-milled rice, between P40 and P46 per kilo; imported premium rice, between P43 and P52 per kilo; and imported special rice, between P50 and P58 per kilo.

El Niño action

At the same time, SINAG called on the DA to ensure the timely distribution of seeds and fertilizer subsidies to farmers amid the threat of El Niño this year.

“The government collected funds from the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law so the seeds should be free. The government should be prepared for the El Niño by making sure hybrid seeds and fertilizers will be distributed early so that farmers can plant,” said So.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration has projected the start of El Niño in late August or early September.

“As of now, we don’t see problems in the provinces as it is raining in the afternoon. The government should still prepare for small water impounding projects and of course cloud seeding in case there is El Niño,” said So.

Meanwhile, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chairman Danilo Ramos criticized Sebastian for downplaying the possible effects of El Niño.

“DA Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian keeps on saying that El Niño will have a positive effect in some areas and that DA is only preparing measures in areas that will be negatively impacted by the climatic phenomenon. How can the country be fully prepared with this kind of mindset?” Ramos said.

Ramos added that there should be a massive information drive about the dry spell. — Helen Flores