AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel Piñol urged sugar industry leaders to seek President Rodrigo Duterte’s intervention in the fight against sugar smuggling.
Piñol, as part of his two-day visit to the province, listened to the concerns and sentiments of industry leaders during the Sugarcane Stakeholders Forum held at the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) office in Bacolod City Friday.
Among the concerns raised during the forum was the drop in sugar prices, with the current average price now at P1,300 per 50-kilo bag.
They claimed this was caused by the unabated importation of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sugar smuggling.
Industry stakeholders added that farmers and small planters suffered the most due to the low sugar prices.
Piñol pointed out that SRA’s Sugar Order No. 3, which regulates the entry of the alternative sweetener to the country, is already being implemented.
“It’s not only sugar that is being smuggled to the country, even other agriculture commodities. If we could stop this, it will help our farmers,” he said.
The Agriculture chief then asked the sugar industry leaders to submit a position paper or a letter addressed to Duterte to ask for his intervention.
Piñol said he will also meet with the Bureau of Customs officials and ask them to strengthen the measures against sugar smuggling.
“We have to take this issue to him (Customs chief Isidro Lapeña),” he added.
Another concern brought up was related to inefficient mills.
Piñol assailed mill owners for having low sugar recovery.
Sugar recovery is the percentage of sugar production in metric ton to the sugarcane.
He said they already identified five mills in the country, including in Negros that are inefficient.
The Agriculture chief said the SRA has “no police powers to compel mill owners to abide with the recommendation” of the agency.
He added: “They have to improve and their mills have to be efficient. If there’s low sugar recovery, it will also affect the farmers.”
Another concern highlighted by Piñol in the forum was the slow disbursement of government funds as it “deprives the people the benefits of government funding.”
He said assessment on the utilization of funds will be tackled in a meeting with the SRA on October 17.
“I will not allow delay in disbursing of funds intended for the sugar industry,” he added.
He also assured the sugar industry stakeholders that SRA will not be abolished.
Piñol added that he sent a memorandum to the President, explaining why SRA plays a vital role in the industry.
Piñol committed more programs to the farmers and the sugar industry.
Among these was the solar-powered irrigation system.
The Agriculture chief committed two prototypes to the province.
Moises Padilla Mayor Magdaleno Peña and a group composed of 3,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries from Kabankalan City agreed that their areas will be used as model farms.
The prototype, which costs P6 million that will be funded by the Department of Agriculture (DA), is powered by solar panels and will provide waters to farms that have no access to river irrigation, and one system can cover 50 hectares.
Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr., who also joined the forum, committed to subsidize one prototype for a farm in Cadiz City.
“We need to study and monitor these prototype farms, if there’s an increase in the production,” he said.
Piñol lamented that the problem of the farmers is that they are afraid to embrace technology.
“We have to be open-minded,” he said.
Piñol said that DA will be “aggressive” in the meat and dairy production.
Next year, the agency will start the Dairy Livestock Program, which has a funding of P1 billion from the National Government and P800 million from the World Bank, he said.
He said the counterpart of the local government is to establish the structure of the municipal multiplier farms, which will be farmers/cooperative facility not operated by the government.
Piñol said he is allocating 25 modules for Visayas, eight of which for Negros Occidental. One of the beneficiaries is Victorias City under Mayor Frederick Palanca.
He said the farmers will generate income from the facility’s by-products.
Piñol also showed to the stakeholders a map, which can be accessed at the website farmersguidemap.gov.ph, that could help the farmers.
The map, which DA developed for eight months, guides the farmers on ground water availability, crop suitability, agro-ecological zone, among others.
Piñol also held a closed-door meeting with the militant groups led by the National Federation of Sugar Workers at the Capitol Social Hall Friday morning.
He said that some of their problems were answered.
“They left the hall very happy,” he added.
The DA chief committed livelihood programs to the farmers to help them during the off-milling season.
“I committed 60 heads of native pigs from Bicol for the Native Dispersal Project,” he said.
Piñol said he also committed help in the mechanization and easy access to financing.
Marañon thanked Piñol for visiting the province “to listen to our problems, not only in the sugar industry, but in agriculture.
Piñol also administered the oath of office of Hermenegildo Serafica as SRA Administrator. He succeeded Anna Rosario Paner.
Duterte had earlier announced that he fired Paner due to hiring of consultants with excessive pay, but the former SRA head said she already resigned from her post before the President’s announcement.