BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – For a long time since the 1900s, sugar plantation owners here have had to worry only about the pureza or the purity of their sugarcane as it reaches the mills or as these start to mature in the fields before the tiempo suerte or when the giant granahe (presses) start to grind the canes, forcing it to yield the sweet juice that had become the fount of wealth and power of many in Sugarlandia.
By the turn of the century, however, planters had to worry about a scarcity in harvest season workforce as the sacadas or the transient workers almost suddenly dropped in numbers, perhaps lured by higher-paying and relatively less gruelling construction jobs in cities of Western Visayas.
There, too, is the sugar allocation problem caused by dropping prices of the once prized US sugar quota allocation that has led to planters calling for the dropping of US exports in favor of a full shift to the domestic market or “B” allocation.
The recent COVID pandemic has compounded the problem as quarantine restrictions have hampered movement of workers for the harvest season as borders shut down and planters shoulder testing costs.
With the first ‘ber month, September, approaching and with it the opening of the milling season, ABC – allocations, brawn, and COVID – seem to be the acronym of the challenges planters have to face.
The Association of Sugar Planters of Silay-Saravia had called on government this week to keep all sugar in the local market, technically classify this crop year’s production as “B” or bound for the domestic market.
It also called on the Sugar Regulatory Administration to issue a sugar order early into the milling season for a 100 percent “B” allocation and to scrap the US sugar market or “A” allocation.
The United Federation of Sugar Producers Federation (UNIFED) had also issued a separate and similar call, urging the SRA to scrap the “A” sugar allocation “…if the supply is just enough for our country’s consumption.”
The United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Service has projected the 2021/2022 crop year production at 2.1 million metric tons, almost the same as last year.
The same report added consumption is expected to rise by 200,000 metric tons compared to last year, “…with households and institutions driving the recovery as COVID-19 restrictions are loosened.”
UNIFED President Manuel Lamata was quoted in a news relesse to have said “there is no point to allocate A sugar when we will also import the differential to satisfy the local needs.”
Lamata is expecting the SRA to issue Sugar Order No. 1 next week amid talks that there are “sectors who are pushing for a (seven to eight) percent allocation for the US market.”
UNIFED had agreed to a seven percent A sugar allocation last year but Lamata said the problem was “the farmers were short-changed because the differential given was only P100 instead of the expected P400. In other words, somebody made money, but it was not the farmers.”
The scrapping of the US sugar quota allocation was highlighted as early as 2020 when Board Member Matt Palabrica of Iloilo’s Third District authored a resolution urging President Duterte and Agriculture Sec. William Dar to stop the export of sugar to the US market, with producers then standing to lose at least P920 million.
Hacienda Bacolod, a group of sugar planters who have been actively advocating industry reforms through social media is also concerned with the possible “useless” export of sugar to the US “at a loss”
(to be continued)