PHILIPPINES: Government banking on mechanisation to save sugar industry

Published: 03/13/2018, 11:30:12 AM

The National Government is banking on farm mechanization as measure to boost productivity in any agriculture endeavor in the country, including sugarcane production which remains to be a major industry of Negros, according to the Philippines' Sun Star newspaper.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who led the opening of the 1st Philippine Sugarcane Industry Mechanization Expo at the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Compound in Bacolod City Monday, March 12, said the name of the game right now is greater productivity and efficiency.

Piñol said the government has allotted a total of PHP700 million (US$13.4 million) in funds available as loans for farmers who want to mechanize their farms. Of the figure, the DA-funded P400 million mainly for farmers of rice and other crops. The remaining PHP300 million, meanwhile, is through the SRA.

"We are just introducing an option for the farmers. The government will only assist, they still have the choice," he said, stressing that "the secret to greater income is greater productivity." The average yield for sugarcane farms in the country, at 59 metric tonnes per hectare, is "very low" compared to that in Thailand with 75 metric tonnes per hectare.

The DA targets to increase the yield on sugarcane to at least 70 metric tonnes per hectare.

"Let us not dream of 75 metric tonnes per hectare, just an additional 11 metric tonnes per hectare would already enable our farmers to earn more." In the face of the current dwindling supply of farmworkers, Piñol stressed the need to mechanize which is faster and more efficient by allowing farmers to cover larger areas in a short period of time.

"Efficiency plus productivity equals greater income for the farmers," he said, adding that "complaint of farmers is normally low price of sugar that should not be the case."

In terms of palay, Piñol said farmers producing eight metric tonnes per hectare would earn PHP100,000 higher compared to those producing only three metric tonnes per hectare at a given price of PHP20 per kilogram. Filipino farmers have been using the traditional methods of planting and harvesting sugarcane. Manual labor he said is more expensive and causing delays resulting to deterioration of the product's quality.

"For us to be productive, we should embrace modern technology," Piñol said, as he announced that members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) can avail of the loan directly from the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC).

One challenge hounding the Philippine agriculture according to the DA is the slow adaptation of modern technology among farmers. Piñol said this is not because "we do not have the capacity to buy the equipment but there is too much resistance from the stakeholders."

Even in rice production, the agency has problem introducing hybrid seeds to the farmers. The DA also considers as problem the bidding of area specific rice seeds. This means that seeds from other provinces may not be suitable in Negros Occidental due to different climatic condition, soil type, and other factors. The "long" bidding process also affects negatively rice production, Piñol said.

"I already wrote the President last week, asking to exempt from public bidding the procurement of rice seeds and allow farmers to choose the kind of seeds they would like to plant," he added.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, who also spoke at the activity, has called on the government to strengthen its farmers training programs on technological advancement and utilization of new agriculture machineries to improve the productivity and income especially of small farmers.

Angara said that under Republic Act 10659, or the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (Sida), sugarcane farmers should be trained to utilize appropriate agriculture machineries and equipment necessary for the efficient planting, cultivation, harvesting and handling of sugarcane.

"We must ensure that Sida is implemented correctly and that there is enough fund every year," he said, adding that there is a guaranteed PHP2 billion for the industry and "we must make sure that it indeed goes to the correct beneficiaries."
Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. said the province has been thinking mechanization 20 years ago, but the problem is the huge number of laborers before. Now, because of the shortage of labor since most of them are already into construction, the farms are really suffering from labor problem, Marañon said, adding that "we have no other alternatives but to mechanize."

The governor also emphasized those government agencies offering loans for the farmers should avoid the "pawnshop mentality" with lots of requirements.

"We have to understand that some of our farmers cannot even read and write", he pointed out. SRA Administrator Hermenegildo Serafica said the sugar industry remains to be challenged by competition and globalization. There is nowhere else to turn but farm mechanization, Serafica said, adding that "farm mechanization offers us the way to overcome these challenges."

Through mechanization, farmers can eliminate 80 to 90% of their labor problems. "It also makes us more efficient by lowering production cost thus, making us more competitive."

The five-day expo which will end March 16 include exhibits of various farm machineries, product presentation, tractor derby, farm demonstration, business summit, and launching of socialized credit program, among others.

During the opening rites Monday, Piñol and Angara along with Serafica awarded the certificates of accreditation to DAO Overseas Workers Association and Sta. Rosa Small Farmers Association Block farm. They also led the turnover of PHP32 million worth of start-up capital intended for 37 block farms in the Visayas.

"At the end of the day, if we are able fine tune all basic sugarcane farming operations surely our farms will be more competitive and productive thus, reducing our cost production to be more competitive domestically and globally," Serafica added.