AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the government should weigh the economic benefits versus the social cost if it wants to implement sugar deregulation.

“I only have one thing to say, I am not a policy maker. They are the policy maker. I am just an implementer. Economic benefits should be weighed against the social cost,” he said.

Eighty percent of the sugar farmers are currently Agrarian Reform beneficiaries. And they are the most vulnerable when it comes to rebel recruitment, said Piñol.

“Are we ready to face that? This is what I mean of the social cost,” the secretary said.

He felt that the government will actually be running against what the Department of Agrarian Reform is doing if sugar deregulation will push through. Eighty percent of those who will be affected are first-time landowners. All those years, they had been dreaming of owning a piece of land to plant sugarcane. And suddenly, the government will just wipe that dream away.

During a recent summit among sugar stakeholders, which was called for by President Rodrigo Duterte, they discussed important positions on the deregulation of the sugar industry following a statement from the economic team that raised the possibility.

They opposed it.

They called for a review of the Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida) as there were funds that have not been accessed over the years.

The loan program only has one percent access rate. So the sugar stakeholders called for the review of the Sida. They also asked for a formulation of a sugar industry roadmap so that the region’s sugar industry will be competitive.

But Piñol has some good news: Netafim Irrigation, an Israeli irrigation company, volunteered to take up two model farms using solar irrigation.

There were experiences reported during the summit that a sugarcane farm in Negros Oriental that utilized solar irrigation harvested over 140 metric tons per hectare.

The national harvesting average is only 54 metric tons per hectare. In Thailand, the average is only 55 metric tons.

If that is the case, that farmers are able to improve agricultural practices by using modern technology like solar irrigation and fertigation, Piñol believes that the country’s sugar industry will become competitive someday. (CNC)