Samples of NIA-distributed organic fertilizers taken as Bukidnon board member alleges scam

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/20 June)  The Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority (FPA) has taken samples for laboratory testing of organic fertilizers distributed by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) following an inquiry by the  Provincial Board on a possible scam.

Provincial board member Glenn Peduche, a rice farmer and merchant from rice-producing Valencia City, told MindaNews Sunday technicians from the FPA regional office in Cagayan de Oro took the samples last week following his privilege speech at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan early this month. The provincial board is awaiting results of the tests from the FPA office in Manila

Peduche spoke at the board’s regular session on June 2, where he questioned, among others, the quality of fertilizers NIA distributed to the farmers.

He brought samples from Valencia City to show the fertilizers were of “substandard quality.”

Peduche told colleagues the fertilizers NIA distributed do not appear to be made of genuine organic materials, hence the need for the FPA to test the samples for nitrogen potassium and phosphorus content.

He cited an initial check by Central Mindanao University professor Conrado Duque Sr. whom he quoted as saying the samples had “very poor” physical quality.

Peduche alleged the NIA Region 10’s Bio-organic Fertilizer Subsidy Program as “a new fertilizer scam.”

He also alleged that P390, the price of the fertilizer per bag, is possibly overpriced. In Valencia, organic fertilizer costs only P350 per bag maximum while other suppliers sell it at P250 per bag such as those in Musuan, Maramag, Bukidnon.

Peduche also questioned the reputation of the supplier, 3K and C Enterprises, a Bayugan-based distributor.

The firm once bid on a P10-million organic fertilizer project in North Cotabato with an expired FPA permit, according to the North Cotabato E-legislative Portal (www.spnorthcotabato.net), as of November 2008. The firm’s representative at that time said they had a certificate of registration valid until 2010. But the North Cotabato provincial board pointed out that it was not a license to manufacture and sell organic fertilizers.

The NIA 10 subsidy package involves a fertilizer and pesticide distribution to farmers in Region 10, including those in Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, and Misamis Oriental.  But the program zeroed in on members of irrigators’ associations, which explains NIA’s involvement.

A total of 1,340 farmers from the four provinces of Region 10 received a total of 18,317 bags of fertilizers and 6,104 bottles of pesticides.

NIA regional director Julius Maquiling, who attended the session and took the podium after Peduche , said “nothing was irregular with the program.”

“We welcome any investigation on this,” he told MindaNews after the session.

He said the program is part of the national government’s FIELDS program, which integrates activities of related agriculture agencies to make the country “rice-sufficient.”

A program of the Department of Agriculture, FIELDS stands for the six areas of support the national government pledged to farmers—Fertilizer, Irrigation and Infrastructure, Education and training of farmers and fisherfolk, Loans, Dryers and other post harvest and facilities, and Seeds of the high-yielding, hybrid varieties.

The pledge costs P43.7 billion nationwide. Maquiling said they were able to access P30 million from the project.

But farmers, he added, have no inputs in their farms. Maquiling said this is the reason why they proposed and signed a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Agriculture 10 to access funds so NIA could distribute the inputs to members of the irrigators association.

Based on the Sustainable System Irrigation  Agriculture promoted by NIA Administrator Carlos Salazar,  40 bags of organic fertilizer are needed to produce a hectare of organic rice.

The SSIA study shows that “40 bags of organic fertilizer per hectare of land is for faster amelioration of the infertile soil into fertile one. The number of bags to be used will gradually diminish until such time that there will be zero fertilizer to apply to the rice field. With the initial good results SSIA achieved, NIA is now encouraging the farmer irrigators to use 40 bags of organic fertilizer per hectare.”

NIA subsidizes only 20 bags per hectare so farmers have to pay for 20 bags more. Only farmers who are willing to give counterpart and are members of good standing of a registered irrigators’ association that pays NIA fees regularly can avail of the subsidy.

As of December 2009, a total of 562 Bukidnon farmers received 10,972 bags of fertilizers and 3,705 bottles of pesticides, both of organic composition, according to the regional summary of impact assessment of the project, a copy of which Maquiling gave to MindaNews.

At P390 per bag, 20 bags cost P7,800. Multiply that by the number of recipients, 562 and the total amount is P4.38 million the farmers paid for 20 bags of fertilizers each in Bukidnon.

There is no amount mentioned per bottle of pesticide.

Asked about the quality of the fertilizer, Maquiling did not give a categorical answer. But he showed how beneficiaries’ average production per hectare increased.

For members of the Manupali River Irrigation System in Bukidnon, Maquiling showed they produced only 90 cavans per hectare before implementation in the wet season of 2008. It grew by 16.1 cavans to 106.1 cavans per hectare for the same period in 2009.

Maquiling said the positive outcome showed that the program was effective. But Peduche said many farmers, including those working with him, were complaining of substandard quality, overpricing, and questionable supplier, prompting him to launch the inquiry.

Peduche made no mention of complaints against pesticide.

Maquiling said it is possible that Peduche’s sources might have some axe to grind about the project. He said possibly there were sour bidders who lost to the supplier.

But Peduche denied having links to such groups saying his purpose is merely to shed light on a valid concern among farmer-recipients and other sectors.

“We will have to wait for the results of the FPA tests. That will give us the answer to our questions,” he told MindaNews in a subsequent interview.

The present provincial board members will hold its last regular session on June 23, five days ahead of the formal oath-taking of their successors on June 28.

The inquiry into the fertilizer project affecting hundreds of rice farmers will be among the first issues the new provincial board has to attend to when they meet on July 7 for their first regular session.  (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)

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