MANILA - The Philippine sugar industry is facing challenges from cheap imports as well as diminished productivity, sugar producer and singer-songwriter Jose Mari Chan said on Monday.
Chan, who owns the Binalbagan-Isabela Sugar Company Inc. and A. Chan Sugar Corporation, said that the Philippines used to produce 2.6 million tons of sugar a year, but this is now down to just 2 million tons.
Cheaper sugar from countries like Thailand have also made it tougher for local producers to compete as the imports of the commodity go for around P1,000 per 25-kilo bag, while locally produced sugar costs P1,500 per bag, Chan added.
"Business has been tough," Chan said.
The singer-songwriter, who popularized songs like Christmas in Our Hearts, said the low productivity was partly due to the break up of large sugarcane plantations because of the agrarian reform program.
He said that while agrarian reform redistributed gave poor farmers land, there was not enough “follow up” as small farmers were not given enough funding.
“We’re down to small farmers with 5 hectares property and many of them have no access to funds, no access to financing, no access to good fertilizer and so on,” Chan said in an interview with ANC’s Market Edge.
Chan said this has led to a decline in productivity, which in turn has led the country to become even more reliant on imports.
“I would like sugar prices to go up so that farmers will be encouraged to plant,” Chan said, but admitted that this will be a “balancing act.”
Two years ago, regulators allowed higher volumes of sugar imports as sugar prices climbed and contributed to faster inflation.
The businessman-songwriter meanwhile said he has high hopes for the government’s Balik Probinsya program, which encourages people to go back to their provinces.
He said this can give sugar producers extra manpower for the industry.