First of two parts.
BRGY. DULAO, Bago City – The months ending in “ber,” it is long held in Negros Occidental, are supposed to usher in prosperity or, to those working in its vast sugarcane fields, a brief respite from poverty.
For the tig-alani in the sugarcane fields means the time when the amo goes on the tapas tubo mode, the cutting of sugarcanes to be fed to the sentrales or mills and refineries that are already at full steam this time of the year when the Filipinos’ extended Christmas season starts.
In economic terms, money picks up speed when the milling season begins and the tiempo muerto or dead season draws to a close.
Near the sugarcane fields in this city known as the rice granary of the province, rice farmers seem to have been drawn into an extended tiempo muerto, one that, to some of them, seems worse than those of the tapaseros (canecutters).
“We are supposed to be eating tocino (cured pork) already but we have gone back to eating uga (dried fish),” Eriberto Gemoto told these reporters as we sat down with him and several other farmers in a neighbor’s house.
Already 67 and a rice farmer for decades, Eriberto chairs the Mainuswagon Dulao Irrigators Association, Inc., a group of palay producers who source their fieldwater from the National Irrigation Administration.
The association counts more than 200 members, he said, and most of them have felt the effects of dropping palay prices owing to reasons they have yet to figure out.
Noelita Tajanlangit, born to rice farmers here, agrees with Eriberto that the quality of viand is among the first to drop in an economic crunch.
“I give 200 pesos a day to my two children who still go to school, I cannot cut their allowances,” she said.
Which means the household budget for viand will be slashed. “Instead of meat, we cook laswa (Visayan vegetable stew),” Noelita said as her husband, Recarido nods in approval.
The Tajanlangits are a bit lucky in their village. Their house is made of concrete with tin roofing, a stark contrast to most of their neighbors who have bamboo houses and thatched roofs.
Eriberto blames the rough times to the plunge in palay prices – from a range of P17 to P20 per kilo of unhusked rice during the harvest season last year to only P12 to P16 this year.
Recarido raises chickens and pigs and also drives a taxi so the family can get by especially when they are still sending two kids to school.
The farmers could only speculate for now though they cited a few possible reasons, among them the successive storms, from Chening to Hannah that affected palay quality, especially moisture content.
Millers, they say, pay higher for palay that is mala (dry) or with a moisture content of 14 percent than for basa (wet) that has more than 14 percent moisture.
The city agriculturist here, Carlito Endencia, confirmed the drop in the prices of “fresh” palay based on their monitoring – from P14 to P17 in the first week of September to only P12 to P16 in the second week.
Prices vary depending