Sugar production seen falling due to El Niño

Danessa Rivera - The Philippine Star
Sugar production seen falling due to El Niño
Workers repack different types of sugar at a store in Visayas Avenue Wet and Dry Public Market in Quezon City on February 16, 2023.
STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — Sugar production may fall by as much as 15 percent in the next cropping season due to the impact of El Niño this year.

“If the El Niño is severe, then production will suffer to the tune of minus 10 to 15 percent or 180,000 to 200,000 MT (metric tons) of sugar or four million 50-kilo bags,” United Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED) president Manuel Lamata said in a text to The STAR.

Meanwhile, a mild case of El Niño could lead to a five percent drop in production, said Lamata.

The El Niño phenomenon is projected to start in the latter part of the year, coinciding with the planting season of sugarcane in the next cropping season.

He projected a total of 1.6 million MT of sugar output for the next cropping season, which reflects a drop by 200,000 MT compared with the previous year’s 1.8 million MT.

Lamata said the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) should finalize its inventory of local production to determine if there is still a need to import additional sweetener to boost the stocks in the country.

“As of now, 440,000 MT authorized by PBBM (President Marcos) is enough. The SRA should initiate survey inventory on end milling to determine if it is not enough. If ever, another 100,000 MT of sugar can be imported,” Lamata said.

In an interview with reporters, SRA Board member and planters’ representative Pablo Luis Azcona said the impact of El Niño will be felt next season, which begins in September.

“During the growing season, this is the time it needs water. If it will be dry and we cannot irrigate, production will go down,” he said.

This crop year, the sugar industry already faces a 10 percent loss due to an early start in harvesting sugarcane. The crop year will end in early May.

“Last year we started early, around Aug. 15. Starting early represents 10 percent loss because we cut young cane,” Azcona said.

For the next crop year, the SRA Board official said the figure given by UNIFED is more or less accurate.

He echoed Lamata’s projection on the drop in sugar production, saying 90 percent of the sugar plantations do not have access to irrigation.

“Only big farms will have access to irrigation. El Niño will mean high cost. Big farms only comprise 10 percent of the total production. The ARBs (agrarian reform beneficiaries) who comprise the 90 percent do not have irrigation facilities. The 10 to 15 percent decrease should be a fair estimate,” Azcona said.

Lamata said small-hold farmers will face the brunt of El Niño – as they comprise 90 to 95 percent of the entire sugar industry – due to lack of access to big irrigation facilities. – Bella Cariaso, Helen Flores

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