Sugar price decline: ARBs, workers warn of severe crisis

If the downward trend in sugar prices is not arrested, a severe crisis similar to a prolonged tiempos muertos will hit the sugar industry.

SUGAR WORKERS IN DISTRESS. The Negros Farmworkers and ARB Producers’ Federation, in a press conference at the Negros Press Club yesterday, warns of a severe crisis, similar to a protracted tiempos muertos, if sugar prices continue to decline. (L-R) Gina Barcibal, federation chair Sandrico Cornelio, Tommy Turnis, Dionesio Sanchez, Antero Imbang and Maya de Vera.*

This was the warning aired yesterday by the Negros Farmworkers and ARB Producers’ Federation and by the Roxol Bioethanol Employees Union during a press conference at the Negros Press Club.

“Soon we will find ourselves unable to send our children to school or, worse, we will face a longer and more pervasive episode of tiempos muertos,” said Sandrico Cornelio, chair of the ARBs federation.

Tiempos muertos, which has become synonymous to hunger in the farms, is the popular term for the period in the sugar industry when all farm work is already completed and the farmer just waits for the cane to mature to be harvested and milled.

During this period, there is no work to be done in the farm. Under the practice of “no work, no pay”, farm workers have no income for food and other necessities during the dreaded tiempos muertos.

The group pointed out that the mill gate price of sugar has dropped to P1,100 per 50-kilo bag, from the P1,800 level during Crop Year 2013-2014, P1,500 in CY 2014-2015 and P1,300 in CY 2015-2016.

It has been four consecutive years that we have been experiencing the slump in sugar prices, they emphasized.

“Small producers like us will never survive the price level of P1,100. Our gross income from the average harvest of 60 tons cane per hectare, at a sugar yield of 1.5 bags per ton cane, is only about P83,724. This is P2,000 lower than the average cost of production which runs to P86,000 per hectare. If prices continue to decline, our livelihood will be destroyed and our survival will be threatened,” Cornelio said.

Almost 90% of sugar farmers in the country are marginalized farmers and ARBs who are cultivating less than three hectares of sugarcane farms. They rely solely on their farm income to put food on the table and send their children to school.

If sugar prices continue to slide further, marginal sugar farmers will be the hardest hit because they have no safety net or back-up business which can help tide them over the price slump.

Officers of the Roxol Bioenergy Employees Union, headed by its president Ronald D. Olac, joined the ARBs in the presscon to express their solidarity with and support the cause of the marginal sugar farmers.

The decline in sugar prices cuts across all sectors of the sugar industry, including the millers, power co-generators and ethanol distillers. If unviable sugar prices prevail, farmers will stop planting sugarcane, which is the feedstock for sugar industry power generators and ethanol producers.

The ARBs and workers called on the Sugar Regulatory Administration to investigate why mill gate sugar prices continue to drop while retail prices remain high. They also asked Congress to conduct an inquiry on the unabated entry or smuggling of imported alternative sweeteners that impact on the price of locally-produced sugar.

“We enjoin the national government, local governments and other concerned government agencies to formulate alternative plans in anticipation of this looming sugar crisis,” said Cornelio.*(Butch Bacaoco)