Statistics on sugar suggest the Philippines’ Sugarcane Industry contributes no less than P70 billion to our Covid-19-battered economy annually.
Out of the total land area of about 30 million hectares, sugarcane is planted on about 422,500 hectares in the Philippines, chiefly in Mindanao, Western Visayas as well as Tarlac and Pampanga in Central Luzon, with about 62,000 farmers.
Available figures show there are 29 operating raw mills with a combined crushing capacity of 185,000 metric-ton-cane per day.
There are 14 refineries with a combined capacity of 8,000 metric tons of refined sugar per day, all operating adjunct to the raw mill.
In terms of ethanol, there are only 4 bioethanol distilleries, with a total annual rated capacity of 133 million liters, according to industry sources.
Geographically, there are seven sugar mills and one distillery in Luzon, four sugar mills in Mindanao, and the rest in the Visayas region, which produces about 65 percent of the country’s sugar output.
The biggest sugarcane hectarage is in the Visayas, particularly on Negros island, followed by the fast-growing area of Mindanao.
In terms of farm sizes, 75 percent of farms have sizes less than five hectares and another 11 percent have sizes of five to 10 hectares.
Of the remaining farms, 11 percent have sizes of 10 to 50 hectares and a mere 2 percent have sizes of 50 to 100 hectares, and only 1 percent have a size of over 100 hectares.
In terms of the total area covered, the small farms of 10 hectares and below cover about 36 percent, and the big farms of 50 hectares and above cover about 34 percent, while the farms of sizes 10 to 50 hectares take up the remaining 30 percent.
Area planted to sugarcane for the past decade has practically maintained at about 390,000 hectares, with annual changes primarily due to local prices.
But recent years have seen an increase when local prices breached the P1,000 per bag level, ($0.23/pound). In addition, the biofuels law which mandated the blending of bioethanol has encouraged expansion as new fields are cultivated.
We go through these figures as we take note of the recent visit of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to Talisay City, in the heart of the top sugar-producing province of Negros Occidental.
There, the President vowed to address the problems hounding the country’s sugar industry, disclosing what he saw was the apparent helplessness the industry suffered in the past.
But the President, during the distribution of aid to various sectors in Talisay City, went beyond the packs of sugar needed by consumers and, while not detailing steps his administration would take to fix the stalking issues, said:
“We are fixing things. For example, the problem of the sugar industry, we have a lot of problems to fix because they were neglected in previous years…For now, we are trying to ensure the people will have enough, not just sugar but all agricultural products so that we can say we have enough food supply affordable to all.”
The President underlined that while the Philippine economy was doing well, it was not exempted from the problems confronting its trade partners, citing the need to make adjustments and find ways to assist sectors hit by economic thunderbolts.
Industry sources have noted the shortage in the supply of sugar in the domestic market following a poor harvest of the commodity for the crop year 2021-2022.
This led to the price increase of the commodity and there have been suspicions of traders taking advantage of the situation through hoarding – one issue we feel the President will be looking into or has started looking into.
Industry sources have also said sugar production has been adversely affected by the high and increasing cost of fertilizer, weed killers, and insecticides, and last year the industry was severely affected by Typhoons Odette and Agaton.
Industry sources have said stable sugar supply is seen until the end of the year, with local production improving by over 20 percent year-on-year, plus the mills in Negros are now running in full capacity.
Some have asked, whether eliminating sugar would adversely affect a person’s health.
Experts agree that eliminating sugar from a person’s diet can be very difficult although it can be done – and they write down some rewards – let’s limit ourselves to at least six — which are worthy of consideration.
In our next column, we will write about what experts say when we stop eating sugar.