THE CONFEDERATION of Sugar Producers Association, Inc. (CONFED) has sent proposals to government officials to address industry challenges and prevent threats from import liberalization.

CONFED said in a statement on Friday that after consultations and workshops, the group sent proposals to the offices of Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, agriculture secretary William D. Dar, and to the Sugar Regulatory Administration board.

They recommended programs to improve productivity, review the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA), and enhance the institutional and political structure of the industry.

To increase productivity in the industry, CONFED said that the block farm program — or the consolidation of smaller farms to take advantage of economies of scale — must be expanded. They added that there should be mechanization through funds from SIDA or through access to affordable loans from the government’s financial institutions.

CONFED proposed upgrading and standardizing mills and mobilizing “progressive sugarcane farmers” to become farm consolidators, service providers, or peer mentors.

The confederation is also urging government to review the implementing rules and regulations of the SIDA law. They are pushing for streamlined application processes, quicker fund utilization, fast-tracked program implementation, and an adjusted fund allocation formula based on industry priorities.

SIDA, or Republic Act 10659, is intended to update industry competitiveness, maximize resources, and boost farmer and farm worker income through improved productivity, product diversification, increased jobs, and sugar mill efficiency.

CONFED is seeking the full restoration of its P2 billion budget.

CONFED Negros-Panay chapter head Nicholas Ledesma relayed farmer complaints on the “tedious” process to access programs offered by the SIDA law.

“The need to streamline processes must be addressed urgently as this has led to underutilization of the SIDA fund which in turn, hampers our plan to modernize and improve on our productivity,” he said.

The confederation also said that the industry must manage negative perceptions.

“The industry has always been at the receiving end when retail prices of sugar go up which is why one of our urgent recommendation(s) is to undertake direct sugar marketing to address this issue,” CONFED spokesperson Raymond V. Montinola said.

He also said that there is “imperative need for additional support on research and development, not only in developing and propagating new varieties that can withstand weather and soil challenges but on technology that can make farms more efficient.” — Jenina P. Ibañez