Diversification, Bukidnon sugar planters’ way vs. AFTA in 2015

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 3 June) – Diversification of crops is one of the first strategies handy for thousands of sugarcane planters in the count-off to 2015, when tariff for sugar will be cut to bring in more competition in the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA).

Josefreddie Flores, general manager of the 9,000-member Sugar Growers Association of Bukidnon Inc. (SGABI), told MindaNews Monday they oppose the implementation of the reduction in tariff from 38 percent in 2010 to 5 percent in 2015.

“But we are a smaller force we can’t insist on what we want. We should rather prepare for it,” he added.

Cheaper sugar from Thailand millers, which enjoy lower production cost, has threatened Philippine sugar producers if the tariff is finally cut.

Bukidnon planters look at planting more crops in their lands, reducing the area for sugarcane.

Flores said that corn and rubber come close to the minds of Bukidnon farmers because of returns. But he added that more farmers will opt for corn because it takes shorter time to harvest and possibly return to sugar if prices are favorable.

Flores, also of the Sugarcane Farmers of Bukidnon Multi-purpose Cooperative (SCFB-MPC), said it boils down to the law of supply and demand.

But he said diversification does not mean lower production for sugar. He said they still want to stick to the industry.

“Lower allotment in hectares planted to sugar does not mean less production. We have to improve productivity,” he added.

Jerry Tumabine, president of the Mindanao Sugar Workers Union based in Quezon, Bukidnon, said that although they are hoping that the reduction in tariff won’t push through, they have also started preparing for it.

He cited that if not prepared properly, it will “adversely” affect the sugar industry not only in Bukidnon.

Tumabine said among the strategies they are studying is improved production, mechanization, use of organic farming, and subsidy from the national government.

He said another way is crop development and choice of varieties.

“We hope that if we take these steps we become more competitive and better prepared in 2015,” he added.

Roderico Bioco, president of the Bukidnon Kaamulan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., said his stand remains that the sugar centrals tap the opportunity to be co-generators for renewable energy power in Mindanao using its biomass potentials.

According to the Sugarcane Industry Roadmap from 2011 to 2016, the Philippines aspires to prepare for 2015 targeting increase in sugarcane area from 400,000 to 470,000 hectares, increase in farm productivity from 55 tons cane per hectare to 75 tons cane per hectare, and increase sugar yield from 1.80 bags per ton cane to 2.1 LKg/TC.

Among the strategies include improvement of farm productivity and sugar yield, improvement in the capacity utilization of sugar mills, sugarcane and molasses as feedstocks for bioethanol production, and power cogeneration.