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Looming Food Crisis

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By Roderico R. Bioco

MALAYBALAY CITY (BukidnonNews.Net/30 October 2022) Our fertilizer importation has dropped more than 50% compared to the same period in 2021. Agrochemicals, too, dropping at the same rate. Importers are not rushing to replenish as agricultural supply distributors and dealers are full. 

Yet, we have a shortage of 18-46-0 (di-ammonium phosphate or DAP), a key fertilizer mostly used by sugar farmers, but also by some smart rice and corn farmers to save some cost. Phosphorus is key in the macro fertilizer requirements (N-P-K) of plants to achieve profitable yield. It costs now more than P3500 per 50 kilograms to import DAP, unaffordable to most farmers.

I am forced to buy mono-ammonium phosphate 16-20-0 at P2,300/bag, which is even more expensive as I need two bags of MAP for every bag of DAP. I do not see the logic of our fertilizer importers. Maybe they think our farmers are dumb.

Globally, there is big concern of phosphate depletion, and also potash (K). These are mined mineral rocks that only few countries have. India, China, Brazil and the USA are the big users and now cornering supply. Unlike Urea or ammonia, which gets infinite source of nitrogen from the air, phosphate and potash rocks are depleting resources.

Phosphate is more challenging as it is key material in the production of semiconductors. There is a mad rush to produce more semiconductors as we enter 4th IR. Cars now are becoming supercomputers on wheels.

In an ASEAN-China Food and Agricultural Conference late 2019 that I and former COOP-NATTCO Representative Cris Paez attended, I raised the issue with Chinese Government officials and Industry leaders the issue of fertilizer supply, which is critical to our food security and our exports of agricultural products to China. We could only get intermittent supply from China, particularly Urea, MAP and DAP. China would only sell these fertilizers after its farmers have finished planting (exports only open July to December only).

China has a huge supply of phosphate rock domestically as well as long-term supply agreements overseas. They were happy to announce in the conference that the Chinese Central Government has issued directives to lift the export restrictions of fertilizer. Well, obviously that directive has been rescinded and even extended into a total export ban. We did receive though a small grant from the CCG for a shipment of 200,000 bags of Urea as a consolation.

As a result, we are seeing now a big drop in sugar production by at least 30% by our relatively wealthy sugarcane farmers. Weather is being blamed (too much rain) for the drop in yields, and not under-application of fertilizer. Maybe true. So, we hope and pray harder that the forecast of the Department of Agriculture that our rice and corn production is as good as 2021 or may decline only slightly is true. The perfect weather has blessed our farmers with good yield despite the cut in fertilizer use by more than 50%. Actually, DA official reports are basically anecdotal though.

Rice and corn account for more than 67% of our national fertilizer use. Together with sugarcane and coconut, these four crops consist more than 90% of our land devoted to agriculture.

The grim reality coming is food crisis by December this year. We already saw the tail of the monster (the surge in sugar prices to more than P100/kg), and the body will reveal itself throughout most of first three quarters of 2023. The current wet season rice and corn crop is supposedly able to cover five to six months of our national consumption (dry season crop can only cover four to five months), so the looming crisis may not manifest itself immediately even if wet season 2022 production drops precipitously by 30% to only four to five months of demand.

I pray that my predictions are wrong. Thank you.

The author is Chair Emeritus of Philippine Maize Federation, Inc. (PhilMaize). FIRST PERSON is a section in the BukidnonNews.Net website dedicated to select statements, speeches, comments, and other views on public matters. If you want to contribute to FIRST PERSON, email your piece, contact details and bio profile to editor.bukidnonnews@gmail.com.) 

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