Farmers Dialogue on Sugar Industry of Ilocos Sur, San Ildefonso

Maraming salamat sa Provincial Government ng Ilocos Sur at sa Municipal Government of San Ildefonso sa imbistasyon upang maging bahagi ng inyong dialogue kasama ang mga magsasaka tungkol sa sugarcane industry. Masaya ako na makasama at makausap kayong lahat ngayong araw.

I still remember na ang isa sa aking pinakaunang hearing that I conducted noong ako ay nahalal bilang senador noong 2013 ay may kinalaman sa sugar industry at ang resulta na nga noon ay ang Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) o ang R.A. No. 10659 or “an act promoting and supporting the competitiveness of the sugarcane industry and for other purposes”.

Matatapos na ang termino ko, pero tuloy pa rin ang suporta ko sa inyong sektor. Natutuwa ako at naisabatas na natin ang tinatawag natin na SIDA. Ngayon naman sinisiguro ko na maayos ang implementasyon ng mga provisions dito. Dahil ang isang batas naman ay walang silbi kung hindi nai-implementa ng maayos.

Noon pa man bilang chairperson ng agriculture committee, prayoridad ko na, na maiayos ang sugar industry para mas maging mabilis ang growth and development nito. Of course, ultimately para matulungan ang mga sugarcane farmers, workers, millers and other industry players.

Moreover, even in the past, I have often emphasized that the sugar industry is one of the most orderly industries in the agriculture sector.  At lagi ko ibinibida yan sa mga events o hearings na inaatendan ko. I hope hindi nagbago ito. If at all, sana, it is changing for the better.

When we talk of change and improvement, farm mechanization really plays a big part. So, mechanization and how the Philippine sugarcane industry can use it to be competitive in the global market should always be a priority. It will help solve many of the problems encountered by the industry brought about by low production, lack of manual labor, and outdated farming practices.

I am a staunch supporter of incorporating research and development (R&D) in the agriculture sector, which will also help improve agricultural mechanization efforts. Especially since I learned that based on studies, two of the barriers confronting farmers, fisherfolks and agricultural workers are lack of technical expertise and mechanization.

Together with various government departments/agencies and organizations such as the hosts of this event, we should focus on working together towards breaking down those barriers. Lalo pa, we are in the midst of regional economic reintegration under the ASEAN Economic Community or AEC.

Actually, we started late in our mechanization efforts, only five years ago, while our Asian neighbors started mechanizing their farms over three decades ago (in the 1970s). So we have a lot of catching up to do. Data shown to me cite that the Philippines lags behind its regional neighbors in farm mechanization. According to Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech), the country’s level of mechanization is at 1.23 horsepower per hectare (hp/ha), behind our Asian neigbors: Japan was at 18.87 hp/ha, Korea at 9.38, and Thailand at 4.20 hp/ha. The DA and PhilMech was hoping to bring the country’s mechanization level to 3 or 3.5 hp/ha.

We hope, with our concerted efforts, we can improve our standing because it will be very beneficial to the agriculture sector in particular. Mechanization can significantly bring down the cost of labor particularly for labor-intensive crops such as rice, corn, and sugar.

At huwag na huwag kayo matatakot na mawawalan kayo ng trabaho kapag nag-mechanize. Maling assessment o way of thinking iyan. Those equipment and mechanized procedures/process will increase your production. Tutulungan kayong maging mas successful at profitable.

The Agriculture and Fisheries Mechanization Law or AFMECH in general help promotes the development and adoption of modern, appropriate, cost-effective and environmentally safe agricultural and fisheries machinery and equipment to enhance farm productivity and efficiency to achieve food security and increase farmers’ income.

Under the SIDA’ Farm Mechanization Program, “planters/farmers of sugarcane farms, including block farms and farms of agrarian reform beneficiaries, shall be encouraged and trained to utilize appropriate agricultural machineries and equipment necessary for the efficient planting, cultivation, care and maintenance, harvesting and handling of sugarcane”.

The SRA, the DA and the DAR, in partnership with local government units (LGUs), consistent with the provisions of Republic Act No. 10601 or AFMech Law, shall:

(1) Introduce or expand the use of machineries for the different stages of sugarcane farming;

(2) Formulate and implement a Sugarcane Farm Mechanization Program at the mill district levels and block farms; and

(3) Support the establishment, operation and maintenance of Agri-fisheries Machinery and Equipment Service Centers in sugarcane areas and, for this purpose, provide socialized credit to service centers that provide plowing, harrowing, weeding, fertilization, harvesting and other farm mechanization services to sugarcane farms that do not have the capability to purchase or maintain their own machineries and equipment.

Hindi lang ang pag-purchase ng mga makina ang importante. Syempre dapat alam ng mga farmers ang pag-operate ng mga ito. Kaya naman under the law, inatasan natin ang SRA through its research centers  and in collaboration with the Philippine Sugar Research Institute, the Philippine Center for Post-Harvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech), the Bureau of Agricultural Research, SUCs, at iba pang government agencies and industry stakeholders, to conduct R&D as well as extension program for sugarcane farm mechanization and engineering.

Malinaw na ang mga provisions na iyan sa ating naisabatas na SIDA. And we have also included a socialized credit facility for the farm mechanization program that is managed by the Land Bank of the Philippines. Fifteen percent (15%) of the two billion pesos allocated for the sugar industry development is for socialized credit under the farm support and farm mechanization programs.

Besides lack of mechanization and technical expertise, lack of access to cheap or socialized credit is another barrier getting in the way of the competitiveness of Filipino farmers. And SIDA has addressed that as well.

The SRA and the Land Bank of the Philippines, in compliance with SIDA provisions, have signed a Memorandum of Agreement to implement the Socialized Credit Facility (SCF) for SRA-registered sugarcane farmers, block farms, and planters’ cooperatives, associations, federations; and Common Service Providers. It will be used for the acquisition of production inputs, farm machineries, and implements necessary for the continuous production of sugarcane.

We really need to improve the global competitiveness of our farmers and the country’s agriculture sector as a whole especially since, as I cited earlier, because of the regional economic integration under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), competition is now more intense and we need to enhance our competitiveness. Mechanization and access to socialized credit as well as continuous training and education will make Filipino farmers more competitive.

Let us also not lose sight of our main goal—to boost the growth and development of the Philippine agriculture sector and above all improve the plight of farmers who remain among the poorest sectors in our country. Those have always been my key objectives in all the legislations I have pursued and passed, including RA 10659 or the SIDA. Para sa inyong mga farmers iyan, kaya gamitin ninyo ang benepisyo na ibinibigay ng batas para magtagumpay kayo at makaahon sa kahirapan.

On that note, thank you again and more power to all of you. Let us continue working together in ensuring the competitiveness of the sugarcane industry and the success of farmers. More power to all of you!