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Biofertilizer shift to benefit from expertise in state universities


By Sheldeen Joy Talavera

A SHIFT to biofertilizer will allow users to tap an extensive array of know-how residing in state universities and research agencies, a government researcher said.

“I think we have a solid technological base on which we can build a biofertilizer program,” according to Roehlano M. Briones, senior research fellow from the Philippine Institute of Philippine Studies, speaking by phone to BusinessWorld.

The government has ordered greater use of biofertilizer as an import-replacement strategy, following the disruption in the fertilizer market in the wake of the Ukraine war.

“Definitely, there is a large scope for replacement in the medium to long term. That is why, if you want to realize that in the next five years, you have to start now,” Mr. Briones said.

Mr. Briones said that most of the chemical fertilizers used in the Philippines are imported.

Chemical fertilizers require synthesizing major nutrients, especially nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, using intensive industrial processes.

He said urea — a white crystalline compound containing nitrogen — uses ammonium as raw material.

“You draw in nitrogen from the atmosphere using the Haber-Bosch Process. Very intensive in use of chemical reactions,” he said.

Biofertilizer, on the other hand, uses crop residue or animal manure enriched with microorganisms using biological processes.

Mr. Briones added that there is no current standard process for producing biofertilizer, because there are many varieties.

Manure-based fertilizer, he said, can be sourced from livestock farms and produced using a biodigester, in which the raw material will undergo anaerobic composition to become a slurry, which then can be used as a fertilizer.

“For overall soil health and long-term sustainability of your agricultural production, biofertilizer is more favorable. There is also an additional benefit, and it is very important (in addressing) climate change,” he said.

He noted that biofertilizer-treated soil can store more carbon, which can mitigate greenhouse gases.

Marlon B. Deblois, a senior agriculturist with the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, said the yield performance of biofertilizer varies widely, depending on the area treated or the season in which it is used. 

“Biofertilizers give off different nutrients (depending on the) microorganism,” he told BusinessWorld by telephone.

Mr. Briones said biofertilizer must also be used in conjunction with other fertilizers, though supplementation with biofertilizer means that “At least you can replace a lot of chemical fertilizer.”

The Philippine Rice Research Institute, recommends using a combination of organic and inorganic fertilizer, which it calculates can save farmers P2,000-P4,000 per hectare, depending on the amounts used, timing, and type of fertilizer employed.

According to Danilo H. Ramos, who chairs the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), a bag of urea currently costs at least P2,000.

“I heard from our scientists that it is indeed possible as long as there is political will and a program from the government, not rely on foreign inputs,” he told BusinessWorld.

He said farmers have been sustaining losses even before the fertilizer crisis. He cited a 2019 KMP case study in Nueva Ecija estimating the cost of production at P69,000 per hectare, when a bag of urea cost only P800.

He also said any impact from using biofertilizer could be offset by the ongoing government push in favor of hybrid rice seeds.

According to Mr. Ramos, hybrid varieties are expensive and cannot be used for the succeeding cropping season. They are also fertilizer and pesticide-intensive, which keeps farmers in debt.

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