Ombion: PH agriculture, sugar, turning into mass grave


WITH the recent announcement by Budget Secretary Benjamen Diokno to liberalize sugar industry, by removing whatever restriction is left in agriculture per agreements in the Asean Free Trade Agreement (Afta) and World Trade Agreement (WTO), the government is in effect turning our agriculture into a mass grave.

No local business would engage in the development of commercial farms for various agricultural products that cater to local needs because the cost of production is soaring, and the government biased for cheap exports and expensive imports won't support it.

Agro-chemical corporations will increase their intervention in our agriculture; they will turn them into hubs for exports of products needed by their own and client countries. As shown by the past practices, their increasing control over our local lands will trigger not only resource plunder, environmental destruction but mass dislocation of our indigenous peoples and local farmers.

Small and medium sugar growers who are dependent on sugar alone will be forced to sell their lands or convert to other farms if they have the capital. The three hundred thousands of sugar workers and mill workers will be out of jobs and be forced to migrate to urban centers for odd jobs.

The once blooming Philippine agriculture will simply turn into a mass grave, where life is impossible to grow and prosper.

The case of the liberalization of our sugar industry long been started with the schedule of lowering tariff to zero for imported sugar in the span of a decade, 2000 to 2010. It was just extended due to bilateral negotiation between concerned heads of state.

Actually, this was already foreseen more than a decade ago because the legal and institutional support are already set up. It just needed a strong man leadership with full control of the Congress and the entire state machinery to enforce it.

I am not surprised by the scenario in the sugar industry. It is bound to die, or reduced insignificantly, and instead be turned into simple ingredients for other food items for exports. In such case, the ph government will not encourage the further growth of the sugar industry but rely more on cheaper sugar imports from countries like Thailand, Vietnam whose production is more efficient and competitive than ours.

The Philippine sugar industry has shown itself time and again to be a moribund industry. It is dependent on colonial Philippine-U.S. trade relations. For a long time, the Philippine sugar industry has been tied to U.S. interests and demands, not to domestic needs and sustainable development. It is an industry molded and developed as export-oriented and import-dependent through unfair trade agreements with the U.S. and other advanced capitalist countries.

“Globalization” exacerbates this fundamental weakness of the sugar industry. With the worsening global crisis of overproduction, the industry is experiencing a massive decline comparable if not worse than the mid-1970s. This crisis has been worsened by neo-liberal policies either imposed or adopted by the Philippine government.

The sugar industry has actually undergone two major stages of the crisis.

The first stage was in the mid-1970s to mid-1980s, characterized by its collapse due to the worldwide glut in sugar.

The second stage began in the early 1990s and continues to the present, characterized by its struggle to survive the onslaughts of “neoliberal policies” of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization through technological innovations in milling, farming and sugar variety, and the use of more exploitative labor policies.

But sugar millers employing “modern” milling technology for sugar and non-sugar based industries like bio-ethanol and biofuels, said that the upgrades are not signs of the modernization process in the sugar industry, but are attempts at coping with the pressures of and taking advantage of whatever they could get from the process of “globalization.”

“Globalization,” a neo-liberal economic policy of the U.S., has only made the nation’s sugar cartel (big planters, millers, and traders) to implement measures to maximize the benefits from a neo-colonial economy that is export-oriented and import-dependent.

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