Sugar industry seen competitive in 5-10 years with SIDA funding

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FUNDING authorized by the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) is sufficient to make the sugar industry competitive after 5-10 years, sugar industry stakeholders said.

“Let us first use what we have in SIDA, so that we can fast-track it, streamline the implementation of the program,” Tatak Kalamay Spokesperson Raymond V. Montinola said in a phone interview.

“I think it would be five to ten years in order for us to be really at par with Thailand. Not even at par, just catching up with them,” he added.

Tatak Kalamay is composed of sugar federations, groups of agrarian reform beneficiaries, labor groups, and sugarcane millers.

Republic Act No. 10659, or the Sugarcane Industry Development Act of 2015, provides for a P2 billion annual budget starting 2016 for competitiveness upgrade projects. Some 50% of the funding is allocated for infrastructure; 15% for grants to block farming groups; 15% for socialized credit under the Farm Support and Farm Mechanization Programs; 15% for research and development, capacity building and technology transfer under the Research and Development, Extension Services, Human Resources Development, and Farm Support Programs; and 5% for scholarship grants.

The funds have been underutilized since 2016, which led the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to slash funding to P1.5 billion in 2017, and to P500 million in 2018 and 2019. For 2020, its proposed budget is P67 million.

However, Mr. Montinola said SIDA funding should be increased over time in order to implement more programs to help the industry.

“Let’s make the P2-billion SIDA fund work first. Fast-track it so that the programs will be implemented, and then after that we will ask for additional funding,” he said.

He said a steering committee of industry stakeholders needs to ensure that programs will benefit each segment of the industry.

“If you are looking at results, you need some sort of a steering committee to know what the results of the solutions are and say what other things we should do to improve it,” he said. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang