BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN
The Department of Agriculture has been asked by Senate Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri to submit a comprehensive plan of action to fertilizers problem in response to complaints of the sugarcane workers and farmers on soaring prices.
Zubiri revealed on Saturday that he temporarily held the approval of the Department of Agriculture budget for next year, with a condition they will approve it in the plenary after the submission of plans on how to address the problem on high fertilizer prices, and what concrete steps they would take to lower the prices of fertilizer.
During a meeting with leaders of 35 sugar federations in Bacolod City, Zubiri admitted that the problem on high fertilizer prices is occurring not only in the Philippines, but it is also an international problem, because the price of Urea, a by-product of fossil fuel, is pegged with the price of crude oil.
Urea fertilizers now costing more than P2,000 per bag, compared to P800 to P900 four months ago.
Sugar industry leaders are asking for a price cap and government intervention to address the soaring prices of fertilizers.
The National Federation of Sugarcane Planters even called on the government to import fertilizer and directly sell them at lower cost to the farmers.
Crude oil prices have been rising due to the gradual reopening of the global economy after the onset of COVID-19. “However, there should be at least some sort of subsidy, or a concrete plan – long-term, medium term, short-term plan – not only for the sugar industry, but also for the entire agriculture sector,” Zubiri said.
With prices of fuel being expected by the National Economic Development Authority to rise to $100 per barrel, which is currently at $80, Zubiri said “we don’t see an end to increase of fertilizer cost,” as of this time, if we rely on market forces.
But he assured sugar industry leaders that he will continue to protect the sugar industry, which is the lifeblood of Negros Occidental and 19 provinces that depend on sugar.
He also revealed that the Department of Finance has ruled out the removal of excise tax on fuel, fearing that they will lose a lot funds.
Zubiri also said that DA is distributing a P1,000 voucher as fertilizer subsidy, which is not enough to buy even half a bag of fertilizer
This prompted the DA to ask for an increase in budget for fertilizer subsidy, which entails billions of pesos. But Zubiri said he will try to discuss with his colleagues in the Senate.
While giving fertilizer subsidy to farmers is a short-term solution, Zubiri also stressed for a long-term solution to the problem by going into organic fertilizer production.
Asked if the soaring prices on fertilizers will affect the food security of the country, Zubiri said it will create inflationary problems for the people as prices of basic commodities will also increase.*