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VP Leni tackles sugar industry concerns

Vice President Leni Robredo at the meeting with sugar associations, discussing concerns of the industry* Nic Ledesma/CCN photo

Vice President Leni Robredo directly addressed five key concerns of the sugar industry in a meeting with representatives of the sugar industry on November 5 in Bacolod City.

Robredo, in the signed message she released yesterday, said that the Sugar Regulatory Administration must be in synch with its new roles mandated by the Sugar Industry Development Act or the SIDA Law.

Robredo also took note of the need for the industry to make better and more timely use of the Sugar Industry Development fund as provided for in the SIDA Law.

The Law, she noted, “provides a valuable and timely mechanism for strengthening the industry, and it should be continued. But,” she stressed, “the industry must show itself capable of utilizing the funds in a more timely and appropriate manner so that the intended benefits are attained.

Robredo also urged the agency to fight for a level playing field to counter import liberalization, stressing the need for government to find measures to make Philippine agriculture world-class and competitive.

The vice president also tackled other related issues such as milling efficiency, labor shortage, rising production costs and soaring fertilizer prices and pointed out that support to strengthen the sugar industry is well within reach with the enactment of the SIDA Law.

IMPORT LIBERALIZATION

Robredo acknowledged that local food producers and the agricultural sector in general, are often made to compete against subsidized imports.

“Setting aside for the meantime the issues about our international trade commitments,” she said, “your call for carefully calibrated sugar imports is consistent with our stand that the Filipino farmers must be accorded adequate and appropriate policy and other support measures to make farming profitable while addressing the country’s need for food security that translates to available, affordable and safe food for all Filipinos.”

AGRARIAN REFORM

Robredo took cognizance of the apprehensions of some quarters in the industry over agrarian reform, and of the failures and shortcomings of the program, particularly in its failure to provide adequate and timely support services to agrarian reform beneficiaries or ARBs, to make them economically-viable farmers.

But she also recounted the program’s successes and the need for government to replicate those gains, citing in particular the SRA’s block farming program started by former Administrator Gina Martin.

“The experiences – both successes and failures – can be very instructive in designing approaches that will work in sugarcane production ” she said.

SUGAR ROAD MAP

Robredo said she is aware that the sugar sector today is facing serious challenges, noting that the industry has yet to achieve its goals of attaining 70-75 tons cane per hectare and purity of 2.0 LKg per ton cane (Lkg/TC).

The Vice President noted that the industry is experiencing shortages in labor, both for cultivation and harvesting, as well as increasing costs of production, rising fertilizer prices, increasing transport costs, continuing demand for higher wages, and unaffordable equipment and maintenance costs.

“(Local) sugar prices are under pressure from sugar imports. Sugar mills are likewise challenged. Milling efficiencies are comparatively low, and hauling costs to bring canes to the mills are rising. Because of milling overcapacity in some areas, particularly in Negros, competition for cane supply can approach cut-throat levels,” she said.

Solutions are in order,” Robredo stressed, but added that “you have all the talent that the industry needs to chart and follow a viable course of action.”*

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