SRA told to reduce reliance on imports, boost production

THE new Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) board will prioritize attaining the country’s sugar self-sufficiency instead of security as ordered by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

SRA board members led by SRA Administrator David John Thaddeus Alba revealed that the marching order of Marcos is for the country to achieve self-sufficiency in sugar, which means reducing dependency on imports.

“It is not actually food security that we are after, it is food sufficiency. Anything that happens, people will have food,” Alba told the BusinessMirror on the sidelines of the SRA’s welcome ceremony for the new SRA board on Monday.

“Basically, that is the marching order [of the President]: to produce [food and] to be food-sufficient,” Alba added.

Alba pointed out that the SRA will improve the country’s sugar production by providing “direct” services to farmers, particularly to agrarian reform beneficiaries who have comparatively lower output.

The direct services, Alba explained, include advancement in research and development, improved laboratory services, among others.

Alba added that the SRA will implement a “big brother, small brother” program that would allow mentoring among sugarcane farmers, especially between those producing higher yields and those with lower yields.

Alba noted that critical to improving local sugarcane production is the reversion of the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) fund to full P2 billion.

Alba explained that the underutilization of the SIDA could be attributed to the lack of the SRA’s manpower to implement the various program components of law.

“It is red tape. Red tape because of the lack of people. We need a lot of people. We need to hire mostly people on the ground so the SRA can reach the small farmers,” he said.

Board members’ commitment

SRA board member Pablo Luis Azcona, who represents the sugarcane planters sector, vowed to move towards improving the productivity of sugarcane farms.

Azcona said he will work hand in hand with the SRA’s research and development arm in improving farmers’ yield.

“We have been tasked by the President to try to achieve not food security but food self-sufficiency,” he said in his brief speech delivered before SRA officials and employees.

“We have a president who wants to stop importing,” he added.

SRA board member Ma. Mitzi Mangwag, who represents the milling sector, said importation is a “stopgap” measure to address the shortfall in domestic sugar supply.

“We have the mandate that if we can only buy local, then buy local,” Mangwag said during the welcome ceremony.

Mangwag said she will advocate for better sugar milling efficiency.

“To be more efficient we need better quality canes. It takes two to tango,” she said. “We will work hard to surmount the challenges ahead in order for the sugar industry to come out stable in the end,” Mangwag added.

Alba argued that there is no need to liberalize the sugar industry “at this moment.” Certain quarters have renewed the calls to liberalize the local sugar industry amid skyrocketing retail prices of sugar.

Alba vowed the new SRA board would do its best in fulfilling Marcos’s marching order of attaining self-sufficiency in sugar.

“The SRA board will work toward food sufficiency. We will work on that,” he said.


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