THE Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations Inc. (Confed) has presented several proposals, an offshoot of a consultative workshop, to address the challenges hounding the sugar industry including the threats of import liberalization.
The group, in a statement Thursday, November 28, said the proposals in a form of a resolution signed by Confed secretary Federico Locsin were recently sent to the offices of Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, Agriculture Secretary William Dar and to the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Board.
These proposals recommend programs to improve productivity, revisit the Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida) and seek for the full restoration of its P2 billion budget, and enhance the institutional and political structure of the industry, it added.
In terms of increasing the productivity, Confed is pushing for the expansion and provision of support for the block farm program. It also suggests mechanization through Sida fund utilization and that of the Department of Agriculture (DA) or access to affordable loans from government financial institutions.
Other measures it is proposing are mill upgrading and standardization as well as value-adding for mills through biotechnology and product diversification, and mobilizing "progressive sugarcane farmers" as farm consolidators, service providers or as peer mentors.
Confed spokesperson Raymond Montinola said there is also an "imperative need for additional support on research and development, not only in developing and propagating new varieties that can withstand weather and soil challenges but on technology that can make farms more efficient."
The association is pushing for a review of the Sida law and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR). Also, it urges the streamlining of application process, speed up fund utilization, fast-track program implementation and adjust fund allocation formula based on determined industry priorities.
For his part, Nicholas Ledesma, president of Confed Negros-Panay chapter, said there have been numerous complaints from farmers of a very tedious compliance in accessing programs provided by the Sida law.
"The need to streamline processes must be addressed urgently as this has led to underutilization of the Sida fund which, in turn, hampers our plan to modernize and improve on our productivity," he said.
To enhance the stature of the industry, Confed said there is a need to manage negative perceptions of both the industry and sugar farmers by projecting a "new and more positive" image.
Montinola stressed "the industry has always been at the receiving end when retail prices of sugar go up thus, one of our urgent recommendations is to undertake direct sugar marketing to address this issue."
The proposals were collectively arrived at by members of Confed Board, who went through a series of consultations and workshops.
Knowing that the reprieve the industry got on the threat of import liberalization from the economic managers is temporary, Ledesma said "we have to do something to address our own problems, with help from government of course."
In a separate resolution, Confed also requested the DA to conduct a performance audit on the SRA and to include examination of its current organizational structure and capabilities as well as ensure that the agency performs its mandate.
"Given the industry's current challenges, it is timely to examine the effectiveness by which the SRA performed its mandated functions and responsibilities with the end in view of determining what measures are needed for it to serve the industry better," the group said.
They also urged the agency to establish a rationalized and calibrated sugar allocation and import/export policy, comply with Senate Resolution 156 which recommends conversion of "A" sugar to be allocated for local industrial consumers, establish a mechanism to address shortage of local supply for industrial users, and issue importation authority to industrial users only to the extent of the actual shortfall, among others.
The SRA, they said, should create a full time Project Management Unit that will focus on Sida programs and create and mobilize the Sugar Industry Development Council (SIDC) in order to facilitate coordinated and harmonized development initiatives for the good of the industry.