Shadow

Robredo addresses sugar industry concerns

Vice President Leni Robredo (center) in a meeting with sugar industry leaders in Negros Occidental Friday, November 5.*Nic Ledesma photo

Vice President Leni Robredo directly addressed five key concerns of the sugar industry in a message she gave to industry representatives in Bacolod City on Friday, November 5.

She also outlined her initial priorities if elected President in 2022.

In the signed message she released Tuesday, November 9, Robredo said the Sugar Regulatory Administration must be in synch with its new roles mandated by the Sugar Industry Development Act or the SIDA Law, and urged the agency to fight for a level playing field to counter import liberalization, even as she stressed the need for government to find measures to make Philippine agriculture world-class and competitive.

Robredo also spoke on the nagging agrarian reform issue, noting that the expired CARPer Law that “remains uncompleted” had prompted some quarters in the industry to ask whether there will an extension if she becomes Chief Executive.

“My first answer is very simple: ask your Congressmen and Senators,” Robredo said. “They are the ones who pass the laws and believe me, the lobbying for various versions of agrarian reform will again intensify. This is where the battle will be waged,” Robredo emphasized in her four-page statement.

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.

But Robredo underscored that beyond addressing the specific challenges being faced by the industry, she will need to focus on measures to control the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that the health crisis does not become a food security and long-term economic crisis.

Her agenda would also include putting the house in order, restoring confidence in the government, engaging all of Philippine society in rebuilding a broken nation and determining the common course that Filipinos must take as a people and, most importantly, making the lives of all Filipinos, especially those left behind, better, safer, healthier and more secure.

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.

Robredo said “with regards to our priority for agriculture and food security, it is government’s job to find ways to assist all farmers – whether they are agrarian reform beneficiaries or not – to cope with the challenges that Philippine agriculture faces today”.

Saying that the country holds the record as having the “world’s longest-running land reform program, she believes there is a need to review the law with the end in view of determining where it has failed and why, and finding the most appropriate way to move forward, keeping in mind the need to attain food security, to make farming profitable, to gain world market access for Philippine agri-commodities and to provide an environment conducive to agricultural modernization.

“But you must also know that ‘genuine land reform’ continues to be actively pursued by progressive elements of Philippine society,” Robredo said, adding that that “This advocacy is being challenged by those who think there are other ways to meet the call for social justice.”

She then asked if the sugar industry has an alternative or a better idea that can be put on the table.

“It is incumbent upon you,” she said, “to participate in democratic society’s battlefield of ideas and come up with ways that will contribute to national development that is viable, equitable, inclusive, just and sustainable.”

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”.

Robredo said she was informed that the industry had been updating its Sugar Road Map and expressed confidence that the sector will “pursue a strategic development plan anchored on productivity improvement, competitiveness enhancement and product diversification programs that will extract more value from cane and ultimately, more value from every hectare of land devoted to sugarcane. The viability of farmers and millers must of course remain of paramount importance, and it can only happen if you treat each other as partners, together with all your other stakeholders.”*

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Secured By miniOrangeSecured By miniOrange