Manila, Philippines – The rice watch group Bantay Bigas and National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan) reiterated its call to hold officials of the Department of Agriculture accountable for their “fertilizer scam pandemic edition” or the procurement of overpriced urea fertilizer as supposed part of the response to alleviate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to farmers. It involved 1.811 million bags via negotiated procurement at prices of P1,035.60 per bag from April 27 to May 1; at P1,037.53 from May 4 to 8; and at P1,040 to May 11 to 15. Groups warned against the malversation of P5.69 billion fertilizer fund under the Rice Resiliency Project, a component of Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (Alpas) Kontra COVID-19 response program, and instead for the Duterte government to heed the legitimate demand of farmers of P15,000 production subsidy.

“Since the damaging impact of the Rice Liberalization Law to the pandemic lockdown, farmers have been engrossed to cyclical bankruptcy, indebtedness, poverty and hunger, thus, they demanded for urgent financial assistance and P15,000 production subsidy to resume cultivation of farm lands, but remained neglected. Essentially, this latest overpricing is rubbing salt into the wounds and must be denounced,” exclaimed by Cathy Estavillo, Bantay Bigas Spokesperson and Amihan Secretary-general.

“We are one with the peasant movement calling for an urgent investigation of this recent anomaly of the Department of Agriculture on overpriced fertilizer. If this remain unaddressed, this would only lead to worse corruption, depriving farmers of due support, especially this pandemic. Will this spill over on the procurement of seeds and farm machineries, on which parts of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or RCEF would be used?” Estavillo raised.

Amihan and Bantay Bigas said that the demand for P15,000 production subsidy was legitimate and should not be neglected by the Duterte government. The 2 bags of overpriced urea fertilizer were only around a fifth of the total costs for fertilizers reaching to P10,000 in Isabela, as reported by Asosasyon Dagiti Mannalon a Babbai ti Isabela (AMBI), Amihan’s provincial chapter in the province. The group reported that production costs last April 2020 reached to P65,747.00 per hectare of land including that of the fertilizer. Deducting costs from sales of harvested palay, for a farmer who owns a hectare of land, the net income was P37,378.00 per harvest season or P6,229 monthly for 6 months or P207 per day. Moreover, the net income for a farmer-tenant was P111 per day for 6 months.

Likewise, Amihan and Bantay Bigas said that the DA’s promotion of the use of chemical-based urea fertilizer enchains farmers, acidify the soil and affects the environment for its mobility in water. Instead, the DA should take this opportunity to advance organic agricultural production, as sustainable and safe system, appropriate to the pandemic.

“If this overpricing could be carried out this pandemic situation, what worse could be on normal circumstances, particularly on how the RCEF of the Rice Liberalization Law would be used. This immoral ‘fertilizer scam pandemic edition’ should be urgently investigated and those involved must be held accountable,” ended by Estavillo. ###

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