‘Stop importing agricultural products now’

Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri (Senate of the Philippines photo)

Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri took a stand against agricultural importation, calling for the Department of Agriculture to cease importation during harvest season for local farmers.

The call came after two straight weeks of plummeting millgate prices for raw sugar, in anticipation of the impending sugar importation as announced by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).

“First it was rice and corn, then pork, beef, chicken, and fish. Now it’s sugar. If we don’t put a stop to this ill-timed importation program, our local sugar prices will be in freefall for the coming weeks,” Zubiri said. “We cannot allow this to happen. Our sugar farmers will be suffering next sugar crop year, with high production costs and lower productivity.”

In Negros Occidental alone, millgate prices of several sugar mills have dropped significantly over two bidding weeks: Victorias Milling Company dropped by P240 for every 50-kilogram bag of raw sugar, SONEDCO by P213, Hawaiian Philippines and First Farmers by P136, and Central Azucarera de La Carlota by P188. In the neighboring island of Iloilo, URC Passi dropped by P223 and millers in Bukidnon by about P100.

The Department of Agriculture and the SRA have greenlighted a sugar importation program through Sugar Order No. 3, aiming to stabilize prices and supply deficits in the wake of Typhoon Odette.

“Our sugar farmers have been asking for help in dealing with skyrocketing fertilizer and diesel prices since last year, and they have not heard of any interventions from the DA and the SRA. Urea now sells for around P2,400 from just P800 eighteen months ago. Diesel prices have doubled from P27 over the same timeframe.

“Now that sugar prices are up because of rising farm input costs, the DA and SRA are coming out with an importation program to stabilize prices. It is ironic that importation is their answer to our farmers’ pleas to mitigate skyrocketing fertilizer prices. This will only sink our farmers toward in more hardships and saddle them with more debts.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital importance of our agricultural sector. They have provided us food amid our strictest lockdowns. And yet strangely, the DA continues with its pro-import policies, to the detriment of our own farmers.

“I will ask the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture to conduct a hearing on this matter, as the DA officials committed during the last budget deliberations and in open session that they will not import sugar during the harvest and milling season,” Zubiri said.

“We should make it a policy that there be no importation program while harvest season is ongoing. That goes for sugar and all agricultural products. Food security should be our battle cry, not import dependency.”