Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, sponsored the committee report recommending measures that will help sugar industry players to be more competitive once imported sugar starts flooding the local market as an effect of the ASEAN Economic Community Integration starting next year.

Report No. 74, or the Sugar Cane Industry Development Act of 2014, puts in place programs that will promote and support the competitiveness of the sugar industry.

“The fear among sugar farmers is that they will not be able to compete with cheaper and government-subsidized sugar from abroad, and this will directly impact their livelihood. We need to quickly implement measures to prepare our farmers and make our local sugar competitive,” Villar said.

The act proposes to put in place productivity improvement programs to boost the production of sugar cane and sugar, and increase the incomes of sugar cane farmers/ planters and farm workers.

Under the measure, the block farm program being implemented by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), Department of Agriculture (DA), and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) will be institutionalized.

This program entails the consolidation of small farms which are five hectares or less—including farms of agrarian reform beneficiaries—as one larger farm, with an aggregate area ranging from 30 to 50 hectares within a 2-kilometer radius.

“This practice will take advantage of the economies of scale in the production of sugar cane. This will result in operational advantages because activities in the small farms are aligned and the efficient use of farm machinery and equipment, deployment of workers, volume purchase of inputs, and financing are ensured,” Villar said. Under this system, ownership of each small farm remains with the landowners, Villar added.

The SRA, DA, and DAR will provide common service facilities such as farm machinery and implements, grants or start-up funding for the needed production inputs, technology adoption, and livelihood and skills development activities for the block farm and its members.

A support program is also designed for bigger farms which are nine hectares or less, including the availability of socialized credit and farm management, technical assistance, and professional services.
“Socialized credit will be made available through the Land Bank of the Philippines for the acquisition of production inputs, farm machinery, and implements necessary for the continuous production of sugar cane,” Villar said.

The SRA, DA, DAR, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), state universities and colleges, and other concerned private and non-government organizations shall formulate and implement a deployment program of agricultural engineers, agriculturists, and farm technicians to provide farm management, technical assessment, and professional services to these farms.

“Planters and farmers of sugar cane farms will be encouraged and trained to use appropriate agricultural machinery and equipment necessary for the efficient planting, cultivation, care and maintenance, harvesting, and handling of sugar cane,” Villar said.

The Farm Mechanization Program will be implemented consistent with Republic Act No. 10601 or the Agricultural and Fisheries Mechanization Law where the use of machinery for the different stages of sugar cane farming will be introduced or expanded.

Research and development on high yielding or flood-resistant sugar cane varieties; pest control and prevention; latest farming, milling, refining and biomass co-generation technologies; soil analysis and fertility mapping of sugar cane areas; weather monitoring and climate change adaptation measures; sugar and sweetener consumption; and other viable products that can be derived from sugar cane will be intensified.

The Act also proposes to establish the Sugar Cane Industry Development Fund or Sugar Fund, which will support the implementation of programs under this act. The Sugar Fund will initially exist for 10 years.

“As far as legislative backing or support (is concerned), my committee is here to protect the industry players’ interests and to help bring about a more sustainable and inclusive growth in the agriculture sector,” Villar said.

This appeared without a byline in Agriculture Monthly’s October 2014 issue.