Farmers blame importation for plummeting sugar prices

Gilbert P. Bayoran - The Philippine Star
Farmers blame importation for plummeting sugar prices
A retailer arranges packs of sugars in Pandacan, Manila on January 18, 2023.
STAR / Ernie Penaredondo

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines — A labor group has warned of social unrest, joblessness, economic dislocation and collapse of the sugar industry if the price of the sweetener continues to plummet.

“The time that we dreaded most has come,” said Wennie Sancho, secretary general of the General Alliance of Workers Associations and convenor of Save the Sugar Industry Movement.

Farmers blamed importation for the low price of sugar, with prices reported between P2,300 and P2,500 per 50-kilo bag.

The reported price for a 50-kilo bag of sugar is below the expected price level of P3,200, which can provide producers and small farmers a comfortable profit margin.

There is more supply, but demand remains the same, according to Sancho, as he blamed the oversupply to the sugar import liberalization scheme policy of the government.

Describing it as alarming, Sancho said the sugar import liberalization would adversely affect agrarian reform beneficiaries, small farmers and industrial and mill workers, who depend on the sugar industry.

Conservative estimates show there are around 300,000 sugar workers in Negros and about 500,000 nationwide.

There are about 65,000 sugar farmers in the country, according to Sancho.

“Should the downward trend in sugar prices continue, the effects will be devastating for the labor sector,” he said.

He bewailed the government’s implementation of sugar import liberalization without assessing the readiness of the industry.

It will be a blue Christmas for workers in the sugar industry if the government will not address the problem, especially with the mill gate price of sugar at P50 per kilo, while retail price remains at P80, he said. In Metro Manila, retail prices are as high as P100 a kilo.

Sancho said they are joining a call for government intervention as they proposed a dialogue with the planters group to address the issue.

A unified action is necessary to avert the impending disaster, he stressed.

The National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP) joined other sugar federations in seeking the intervention of President Marcos and Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel to address the plummeting sugar prices.

“For the past several weeks, our sugar farmers have been suffering from price levels of P2,500 per bag, which is not commensurate to the financial resources, hard work and risks that farmers invest into their farms. Millgate sugar prices should be at the P3,000-P3,500 level to reflect current retail prices of P85.00 to P100.00 per kilo,” NFSP president Enrique Rojas said.

Rojas cited the almost 70:30 ratio in the withdrawal of imported sugar over locally refined sugar, as reflected in the Sugar Regulatory Administration’s sugar production and withdrawal reports for crop year 2023-2024.

“The government should properly manage the sugar supply and demand situation and give preference to locally produced sugar. We recommend that local sugar should be given first priority in the market, before allowing the withdrawal of imported sugar, which was intended originally to fill last crop year’s deficit and act as reserve for this crop year,” Rojas said.

The Confederation of Sugar Producers Associations Inc. led by Aurelio Valderrama Jr. said traders and importers prefer the cheaper imported sweetener over locally produced sugar because it gives them more profit.

“This is unfair to local sugar farmers, mostly agrarian reform beneficiaries, who are employing millions of Filipinos,” Valderrama said. – Daphne Rivera

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