Foreign sugar producers keen on PH block farm program

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THE Philippines’ block farm program drew interest from other sugar producing countries at the 47th Council Session of the International Sugar Organization (ISO) held recently in Antigua, Guatemala.

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Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) Administrator Regina Bautista-Martin gave a presentation on Philippine sugar policies, which touched on the block farm program (BFP), the centerpiece of the Sugarcane Industry Development Act of 2015.

“After my presentation, delegates from Tanzania and Fiji expressed their interest to learn more about the program,” Martin said in a statement.

Both countries have small farm holdings of less than 10 hectares, which find it difficult to remain viable in a volatile world market and changing sugar policies particularly in the European Union.

Martin said that the BFP – which involves farm consolidation to efficiently provide management, technical and production support services—may help address their sugar industry situation.

“They hinted on their delegations’ possible visit to the Philippines to see first-hand the operation of block farms,” she added.

The ISO is an intergovernmental organization based in London and is made up of sugar producing countries including the European Union. The ISO was created by the International Sugar Agreement of 1968, and aims to promote the trade in and consumption of sugar by gathering and publishing information on the sugar market, research into new uses for sugar and related products, and as a forum for intergovernmental discussions on sugar.

This is the second consecutive year that SRA was asked to give a presentation during the ISO Council Session. Martin is also a plenary presenter at the 24th ISO Seminar this November in London.

The Philippines is now pushing for the creation of more block farms nationwide to provide better opportunities and help smallholder sugarcane farmers to survive beyond 2015.

Threat from integration
The beginning of the year marks the start of the full integration of the Asean Economic Community. The tariff on imported sugar from Association of Southeast Asian Nations member-countries is now down to 5 percent.

Amidst the threat of 5 percent tariff imposition on sugar importation under the Asean Free Trade Agreement or AFTA, Martin said that each sector of the industry has its own challenges to face.

“Farmers need to reduce their cost of production; the millers need to be more efficient; the traders need to stay on top of the market; and the government must use all means in ensuring that cheap imported sugar doesn’t flood the domestic market,” she said.

Anchored on the principle of “doing more with less,” the government is taking the lead in growing the industry by strengthening the small farmers through block farming and credit and financing schemes in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Agrarian Reform and Land Bank of the Philippines.

Block farming is implemented by consolidating small sugarcane areas of 1.5 to two hectares into one unified operation.

“When small farms are unified to have single operations of 50 to 60 hectares under block farming, sugarcane farming can achieve economies of scale,” Martin said.

In a BFP, farmers make use of the same tractors, land preparation equipment and are able to do bulk purchase of inputs like fertilizers and capture bigger markets with their bulk production,” she said.

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