Saturday, February 27, 2010

Save the sugar farming sector

Saturday, 27 February 2010 00:00

Original Story:

PERHAPS because the President and the First Gentleman are from sugar-farming provinces, the Arroyo administration worked successfully to defer implementation of zero tariff on sugar trading within the Asean Free Trade Area.
The slow death of sugar farming has been going on for decades. Removal of tariffs on Philippine sugar imports would have hastened the death of our country’s sugar-agriculture sector.

Before long, however, the zero-sugar-tariff agreement among Asean members will have to be enforced. Unless the Philippine government and the sugar industry’s leaders do something to begin aiding Filipino sugar planters before that day of zero-tariff comes, the Philippines as a cane sugar producing country is doomed.

Some economists and policy-makers, the same people who say that if Filipino farmers can’t produce rice and corn competitively against the farmers of other countries then rice and corn farming in our country deserves to die, are averse to lifting a finger to save the sugar-farming sector. They falsely argue that the Philippines would be better off using the money protecting these sunset sectors for more productive economic activities.

But what activities? Selling more Filipino labor abroad? This is already being done. And the efforts to upgrade the skills of Filipinos for the OFW market abroad is bearing fruit. The problem is that unless the global economic slowdown ends—unless consumer spending in our markets, the United States, Japan, Korea and Western Europe, becomes as dynamic as in the years before the 2008 financial crisis—the global need for OFWs will surely shrink.

The manufacturing of Intel and Texas Instrument chips, Toyota automotive harnesses, and such products here will decline—unless the world economy recovers for good.

The requirement for more and more Filipino seamen annually will halt, if Greece (whose shipping industry is manned almost completely by Filipinos) does not recover from its present monetary and economic crises.
We Filipinos must decide to nurse back our agriculture sector to good health. Because if we don’t we will suffer from food insufficiency.

Our Agriculture officials are claiming that we will never have a rice, corn and sugar shortage because we can easily import these basic agricultural products.

But for how long? With a global rice and corn shortage looming on the horizon because of El Niño, La Niña and other climate-change effects, our usual rice sources have given indications that they may no longer be willing to sell as much of their rice and corn as they used to. We are the world’s biggest importer of rice and our buying pattern has driven the world price of rice to record highs.

Now we are importing sugar too. Next week the government will auction off to traders the right to import 60,000 tons of sugar to stabilize the domestic price of that essential product.

Why doesn’t the government just make the restoration to good health of our agriculture a top priority?

SRA must do its job

Most sugar landowners, big and small, are talking about the demise of the sugar industry when the zero-tariff regime under the AFTA kicks in.

They want government to give “full protection and support” to sugar farmers, planters, the mills and the downstream candy and other industries.

A recent Bulatlat report quoted Jose Nadie Arceo—president of the United Farmers Association of Negros-South Inc. (UNIFARMS), to which small sugar landowners affiliated with the United Sugar Planters Federation (UNIFED) of the Negros provinces belong—saying that their “average sugar production every year is at 2.0 to 2.1M metric tons almost equal to our domestic consumption.”

Even if there is an annual increase of just 3 percent to 5 percent in domestic consumption, Arceo said, their group of small-scale planters (with only 25 hectares or less of cultivated land fir sugar) can cope with total demand.

There would then be no need to import.

With support, the Philippines can again become a sugar-exporting country.

But to do that, Arceo believes (according to the Bulatlat report written by Karl G. Ombion), and to save the sugar industry, “the country must revert back to a regulated regime.”

“The problem with the current liberalization and deregulation policy of the government, Arceo also said, is that the local industry is losing out to the massive imports of sugar from countries with highly efficient, technology-wise, and heavily-subsidized sugar industries.”

Arceo, Bulatlat reports, “compared the failure of government to support the sugar industry with the problems confronted by the government’s agrarian reform program.”

“The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP),” he said, “is a good program, that is why many of us small farmers have offered some of our lands for CARP coverage. But it failed because the government did not provide poor farmers with access to capital and subsidies to make their lands productive.”

Arceo complained that the “government does not also have a comprehensive program to support the sugar industry. We have several government agencies that are supposed to assist sugar producers, like the Land Bank of the Philippines, the Quedancor, among others, but we do not know what they are doing.”

In addition there is also unabated sugar smuggling.

There is a Sugar Regulatory Administration. But despite complaints from sugar-industry people, it has not curbed sugar smuggling.

It is not too late for President Arroyo to make a strong move to support the sugar industry. And for that matter the rice and corn agriculture sectors.

And the next President and his Cabinet must make a stand about making our country agriculturally self-reliant.

Original Story:

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