THE agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) Sugar Farmers Federation–Kilusang Pagbabago reiterated its demand for government support to marginalized farmers amid the proposal by the country’s economic managers to deregulate the importation of sugar.
“If the importation of sugar is liberalized, consumers will buy the cheaper, subsidized imported sugar while nobody will buy local sugar. With the loss of market for our sugar, the ARBs, sugar workers, and our families will starve. The hunger and economic dislocation will breed social unrest, reminiscent of the fiery insurgency during the 1980s, particularly in Negros,” stated the group, composed of 11 ARB associations in Negros.
“We implore President Rodrigo Duterte, whom we campaigned for and elected to look after the welfare of poor farmers and marginalized Filipinos, to stop this move which will destroy our livelihood,” they stated.
“We urge the government to abandon its plans to deregulate sugar importation. Instead, the government should devise programs to help the farmers, by providing free or cheaper fertilizer and other farm inputs; easier access to production financing; tractors and other equipment for farm mechanization; and, fuel subsidies, similar to the Pantawid Pasada Program given to the transport sector, or tax exemption for fuel used for agricultural production, among other government support,” the group said.
The said statement was reflected in the position paper, signed by federation chairman Aaron Sorbito.
He disclosed that they will submit their position paper during the sugar summit, which opens on Monday, February 11, and runs until Tuesday, February 12, in Manila.
Organized by the Department of Agriculture, the summit purports to gather all stakeholders to set a five-year roadmap for the sugar industry.
However, expected to take center stage during the event will be the industry position and action plan on the existential threat of the proposal for sugar import liberalization.
Sorbito said that the sugar industry contributes about P150 billion annually to the national economy; provides the sole source of livelihood to almost 80,000 marginal farmers, most of whom are agrarian reform beneficiaries cultivating less than one hectare of farmland; employs 720,000 workers; and feeds about five million Filipinos in 28 provinces in the country.
Through its bioethanol distilleries and biomass power generation, the sugar industry plays a crucial role in securing the country’s fuel and energy security and self-sufficiency, he added.
Of all sectors in the country, only the sugar industry has a Social Amelioration Program which provides direct cash bonus to its workers; financing for socio-economic projects, like skills training, scholarships, and livelihood projects for workers and their families; and maternity and death benefits, over and above those mandated by the government, he explained.
“Plow back to the sugar industry some of the hundreds of billions it has been contributing to the national economy for decades,” the group demanded.
They explained that, if the ARBs can reduce their production cost and increase their yields, they can produce cheaper sugar and other by-products. This will benefit not only the sugar farmers and consumers, but also the government, because it will generate higher taxes and revenues from the sugar industry.
Further, they urged industry stakeholders to campaign and vote for national and local candidates who have consistently stood for and who clearly present a sustainable program for the sugar industry, in particular, and the entire agriculture sector, in general. (PR)