THE SUGAR INDUSTRY IN THE PHILIPPINES

 

As early as 1850s, sugar was introduced in the Philippines and became a subsistence crop among early Filipino farmers. The United States, through the Laurel-Langley Agreement, granted the Philippine a high quota for sugar into the US markets. Soon, sugar became a leading export earning crop of the country.

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One of the effects of the sugar boom in the country was that lands planted with sugar increased by ten folds. In Negros, the leading sugar producing province in the Visayas, 70% of its total agricultural lands were turned into sugar lands. Ownership of land began to concentrate in the hands of few but rich families. They emerged as the dominant political and social forces in the Philippine society wresting control over key economic institutions, occupied or influenced key government offices and dominated political institutions in the country. On the other hand, the small farmers became landless – merely working as tenants and farm workers, which resulted in extreme poverty of the rural areas.

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Years later, alternatives to cane sugar were developed in the industrialized countries. Sugar from the US, Europe and Australia became mechanized and highly subsidized. The Philippines started to wrestle tight direct competition with sugar beet producing countries. With cheaper production cost, market prices were comparatively lower than the Philippine sugar.

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As a result, the Philippine sugar industry started to crash. This is unfortunate given that the Philippine sugar industry employs an estimated 556,000 farmers and 25,000 sugar mill workers, and about 5 million people depend on the industry directly or indirectly. The resulting economic crash drove many, especially the sugar workers (sacadas) and small farmers, below the poverty line. The sugar industry now faces a seemingly irreversible crisis.

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Today, prices of locally produced sugar remained higher compared to sugar produced in other countries. The increasing demand for the domestic use of sugar in the food and beverages, confectionaries, processed fruits and the general public has kept the sugar industry afloat. The Philippine government’s commitments to the GATT and WTO are exerting pressure for government to remove protectionist policies. The Philippine Bottlers Association of the Philippines, an organization of soft drinks and cola producers has lobbied for Congress to allow importation of sugar. The Philippine sugar industry is threatened by the entry of cheaper imported sugar and the eventual removal of US quotas.

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The powerful sugar elites continue to enjoy strong influence in government. Agricultural lands owned by the sugar political elites continue to circumvent the implementation of agrarian reform.

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Many things have to be done to protect the interests of small sugarcane producer in the local production and marketing arena as well as the effect of global market forces. The various players of the industry are all aware of the sectoral problems burdening the sugar industry.

The Philippine Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (PhilDHRRA) in partnership with the National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO) and Center for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (CARRD) is currently working on a project with support from Agriterra entitled “NAGKASAMA Sugar Marketing - Enhancing the Income of Small Sugarcane Farmers in Selected Municipalities in Western Batangas by Optimizing Current Opportunities in Marketing. The project is a response of the initial desire of the Consortium and Agriterra to upscale the current level of enterprise initiatives of small cooperatives.

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The NAGKASAMA Sugar Marketing Project is aimed to improve the quality of life at least 1,000 small sugarcane-farming households, mostly agrarian reform beneficiaries, of several municipalities in Western Batangas.

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NAGKASAMA is a cooperative that was organized with assistance from the Center for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (CARRD), a member of PhilDHRRA with members from the municipalities of Balayan, Tuy, Calatagan, Taal, Lemery, Calaca, Lian, and Nasugbu. It remains as a provider of the necessary support in making productive farmlands and access to market.

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To learn more about the sugar-marketing farmers and know ways how you can help them, you may send us contact us through nc@phildhrra.net /national@phildhrra.net.