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Malo in tiempo suerte as planters, farmers feel pinch of high fertilizer prices in Sugarlandia

BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – The tiempo suerte, literally time of luck or the sugarcane harvest season is in full swing in Sugarlandia here but the kiriwi or the pained expression on the faces of planters and farmers is not about to go yet as fertilizer prices continue to soar for the third straight year.

With the tigtalanum or the planting of sugarcane to start soon after the milling period, sugarcane farmers have been bewailing the rising prices of fertilizer, a key input in sugarcane production.

“We have been discussing about the rising prices of this input even before the COVID pandemic started,” non-profit head Ariel Guides told DNX.

Guides is president of the Altertrade Philippines Foundation for Food Sovereignty Inc. that provides financial and technical help for close to 30 sugarcane and banana growing cooperatives composed of agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Ariel Guides. | DNX file photo.
Ariel Guides. | DNX file photo.

He describes the rise in fertilizer prices as “almost unbearable” for beneficiaries who own land below 10 hectares and who now make up 90 percent of sugar producers in the country, based on 2020 data of the Sugar Regulatory Administration.

“We were joking to each other that the cartel has shifted to fertilizer from sugar,” Guides added.

The rise in fertilizer prices, however have hit hard as it usually means low income or just break even profits for the farmers, he said.

“Most fertilizer prices soared in 2021, particularly phosphates and urea, driven by strong demand and higher costs,” the World Bank said in an article on its blog.

“Potash prices remained broadly stable on ample supply. Fertilizer prices are projected to average more than one quarter higher in 2021 than last year, before easing in 2022. Risks to the forecast include the pace of capacity expansions, geopolitical tensions, and, in the medium term, environmental policies on fertilizer use,” it added.

The (Department of Agriculture) and (Department of Trade and Industry) must do something to curb fertilizer price hike, ” lawyer and sugarplanter Dino Yulo said.

Yulo, a former planters representative to the board of the Sugar Regulatory Administration, said in a release from his publicist that the prices of fertilizer have more than doubled since last year.

This, coupled with rising diesel prices, and the effects of a storm that hit last year had been causing trouble to the sugar industry, he said.

Atty. Dino Yulo. | DNX file photo.
Atty. Dino Yulo. | DNX file photo.

He pointed out that urea, the fertilizer grade most heavily used by farmers, was selling at around P900 per 50-kilo bag 18 months ago.

Now, it sells at P2,300 to 2,400 per bag, he added.

Amid calls for a price freeze and government intervention that remained largely unheeded, some sugar planters are finding ways to cope.

Paul Azcona, for instance, said he might prefer to rattoon his canes for the planting season this year.

Azcona, who chairs the planters association in Kabankalan City and Ilog town, said rattoning could not make him avoid buying fertilizers but he could save a bit on land preparation costs.

Rattooning, called kalaanan in Hiligaynon, involves allowing a new crop to grow from the sugarcane roots left after the harvest.

The kabag-uhan or fresh cropping, on the other hand, involves land preparations before new cane points are planted.

Julius D. Mariveles
Julius D. Mariveles
An amateur cook who has a mean version of humba, the author has recently tried to make mole negra, the Mexican sauce he learned by watching shows of master chef Rick Bayless. A journalist since 19, he has worked in the newsrooms of radio, local papers, and Manila-based news organizations. A stroke survivor, he now serves as executive editor of DNX.
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