Government eyes expansion of sugar-cane areas in Negros

THE Departments of Agrarian Reform and Agriculture through the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) are eyeing the planting of sugar cane in more area in Negros provinces to help increase the country’s sugar production.

The strategy is to form more sugar-block farms to encourage farmers to venture into sugarcane, says Helen Lobaton, SRA focal person for sugar block-farming in the Visayas.

The SRA in the Visayas has identified some 2,000 hectares in Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental as potential areas for expansion.

However, this will require the construction of more farm-to-mill roads to make sugarcane farming economically viable, Lobaton said.

The Visayas contributes around 60 percent of the country’s total sugarcane production. Areas currently planted to sugarcane in the Visayas is pegged at 273,000 hectares.

Sugar block-farming was introduced in 2012 as a means to help farmers to increase yields and reduce production costs.

Each sugar-block  farm will require at least 30 hectares  which means pooling together land resources of agrarian reform beneficiaries with small lands averaging 500 square meters.

There are currently 26 sugar block farms in the Visayas, which covers Regions 6, 7 and 8 covering a total of 1,130 hectares. So far a total of 1,090 farmers are enrolled under the DAR-DA-SRA sugar convergence initiative, Lobaton said.

The DAR provides common service facilities such as farm tractors to those enrolled in the program through their Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, while DA and SRA conducts training to enhance the capability of farmers in sugarcane plantation management.

So far, 22 of the 26 sugar block farms have benefited from such government support.

Aside from 26 sugar block farms covered by the DAR-DA-SRA partnership, the SRA has identified 79 potential sugar block farms in the Visayas. These sugar block farm covers a total of 4960 hectares, Lobaton added.

“These potential sugar block farms are already existing but needs intervention to increase farmers’ incomes through better yields and lower production costs,” she said.

So far, the SRA has provided 20 on-site trainings in the Visayas to help enhance farmers’ skills in managing their sugarcane plantations, Doreta de los Santos,  manager for research and development extension department of SRA said.

The SRA is into technology transfer to improve productivity of small farms in the Visayas, de los Santos said.

Under the DAR-DA-SRA sugar-block farm initiative, the target is to increase production to 75 tons per hectare. The Visayas sugarcane production average is 62 tons to 64 tons per hectare. The Visayas contributes about 60 percent of the country’s total production with its 273,000 hectares planted to sugarcane.

Research and development says de los Santos, will further increase the region’s potential to push up exports to the world market.

“After harvesting, we conduct GPS mapping, soil testing and analysis so that we can apply the right amount of fertilizer or pesticide,” she said.

SRA is also supplying sugarcane farmers with planting materials developed through research and development by SRA research specialists. The varieties the SRA is providing farmers for reasonable cost are high-yielding and already free or resistant to two of any major diseases known to affect sugarcane production in the Visayas.

Through the right technology, and with farmers having the resources to adopt the technology we developed, which are tested in our demo farms, we are hoping to come up with better yields not only in terms of quantity, but also in terms of purity or quality of the sugarcane,” she said.

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Jonathan L. Mayuga is a journalist for more than 15 years. He is a product of the University of the East – Manila. An awardee of the J. G. Burgos Biotech Journalism Awards, BrightLeaf Agricultural Journalism Awards, Binhi Agricultural Journalism Awards, and Sarihay Environmental Journalism Awards.

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