WHILE sugar industry stakeholders initially welcomed the appointment of William Dar as the new secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), knowing his nature to help the marginalized Filipinos, such perception changed shortly upon his pronouncement that he is open to the proposal to liberalize sugar importation.
Negros Occidental Federation of Farmers Association (Noffa) chairman Enrique Tayo, in a statement, said he is “disappointed to say the least about the pronouncement.”
Noffa is a big group of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in southern Negros.
Tayo said they were told that Dar is knowledgeable in agriculture and ought to know that liberalizing sugar importation will hurt particularly the small farmers.
“He has not even consulted stakeholders and yet will make such announcement already knowing that we have been opposing that move in the last couple of years,” he said, adding that they already saw the effects of liberalization in the rice industry.
The group was alarmed when Philippine Food Exporters Inc. (Philfoodex) president Roberto Amores announced that the new agriculture chief is open to liberalize sugar imports.
Also, Noffa wanted to be clarified on the role of Amores for making the statement ahead of the secretary.
“We all know who Amores is. He has been lobbying for sugar importation, allegedly for the survival of his group when we know that their requirement is not huge enough and can be supplied by the domestic market,” Tayo said.
He said they are now more alarmed to hear from Dar that he is appointing Amores to head the DA’s Secretary Technical Advisory Group (STAG).
“Amores appointment is a clear indication as to how this issue on sugar importation will go,” he claimed.
Noffa is appealing to Dar to review Amores’ appointment and “choose people who has the farmers’ interest and the agriculture’s future at heart.”
Earlier, Raymond Montinola, spokesperson of the Confederation of Sugar Producers (Confed), the biggest group of sugar farmers in the country, said they also welcome Dar.
It is because of his “penchant to help the poor Filipinos that strikes us the most as 85 percent of our producers are small farmers.”
“We believe he (Dar) will provide proper attention to the small farmers insuring them a more sustainable livelihood,” Montinola said.
With Dar’s openness to sugar importation, he added that “while imports are no longer avoidable due to the industry’s inability to meet domestic demand, these imports must henceforth be calibrated on the basis of a careful analysis of projected production versus demand, and in consultation with industry stakeholders.”
Sugar producers said this will require the updating of industry data with respect to actual area under cultivation and the corresponding crop estimates of the different sugarcane-growing districts throughout the country.
Also, it needs an accurate and fair determination of demand by industrial users, food exporters and domestic consumers.
Montinola further said Amores’ group must not be the basis for such call as they “require a miniscule amount for their industry.”
Also, Confed sees the need for industry stakeholders to adopt strategic measures to “adjust to fast changing conditions” through the proper utilization of the Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida) fund.
“In this matter, the Sugar Regulatory Administration must play a key leadership role in addressing this issue,” it reiterated.