THE Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) said they are working on an agreement to expand technical assistance to block farmers with the aim of increasing their sugarcane yields.“With regard to the improvements, it’s under negotiation but we will definitely continue the relationship between SRA and DAR,” said Agrarian Reform Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Luis M.C. Pañgulayan in a phone interview withBusinessWorldover the weekend.
He noted that the two departments have cooperated before in offering technical assistance to certain agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in various provinces but the negotiations are geared towards expanding these arrangements.
Sugarcane block farming (SBF) involves the consolidation of land awarded to ARBs of three hectares or less for integration into 30- to 50-hectare plots via partnerships and joint ventures, among other schemes, while preserving individual ownership.
Republic Act 10659 or the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) of 2015, requires the SRA to provide farm management, technical assistance, and professional services support to block farms, in coordination with agencies such as the Agriculture department and the DAR, which the same law tasks with providing funds to operationalize and monitor block farms.
A final agreement is targeted within the year, according to Mr. Pañgulayan.
At present, the SRA only has P297 million allocated for technical assistance, sufficient for about 62 block farms, or 31% of the more than the 200 current block farms that have enrolled for accreditation.
SIDA mandates that 15% of the SRA’s annual budget, nearly P2 billion, be released for technical assistance to sugarcane farmers.
Technical assistance includes deploying experts to farms to disseminate growing or manufacturing techniques.
“DAR was able to obtain international funding. They have a lot of money for support services. Their problem is they have no experts on farming technology,” said SRA’s Manager of Policy and Planning Rosemarie S. Gumera in an earlier interview withBusinessWorld.
“We are the ones with expertise, not DAR. We need to partner up in terms of technical assistance... It’s not possible to just give farmers new equipment that they don’t know how to use,” Ms. Gumera added.
The SRA, an agency of the Agriculture Department, is targeting an increase in the average cane yield to 70 tons per hectare by 2020 from the current 55.
Production of raw sugar in the crop year 2015 to 2016 was 2.24 million MT, 5.88% down from the 2.32 million MT in the preceding crop year.
But the 2020 goal may not be achieved and may take a while to achieve if the SRA does not add to its SIDA funding for technical assistance, according to Ms. Gumera.
She said that farms fragmented into small landholdings of less than five hectares due to the aggressive implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program “are pulling down our production.”
These farm owners, mostly ARBs, do not benefit from economies of scale as they have no financial capability to deploy effective farm inputs a block farming.
Last year, the SRA said 19 pilot sugarcane block farms raised their productivity by an average of 29% during crop year 2013 to 2014 after implementing the block farming scheme, introduced by the government in 2012.