OECD-FAO: PHL sugar imports in next 9 years may be necessary

THE Philippines may have to import an average of 282,670 metric tons (MT) of sugar annually in the next decade to meet growing demand for the sweetener as local production stagnates, based on international projections.

Joint projections by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showed that the Philippines will continuously import sugar from 2023 until 2031 to boost its domestic supply.

The OECD-FAO said the Philippines will import sugar from a low of 231,180 MT to as much as 320,340 MT in the next 9 years.

The Philippines has been importing sugar for domestic consumption for the past five consecutive years.

Erratic domestic sugar production has forced the government to implement sugar import programs to ensure sufficient supply and avert price increases.

This year alone, the Philippines could be implementing two sugar import programs to boost supply and temper skyrocketing prices that hit P115 per kilogram.

In February, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) approved a 200,000-MT refined sugar importation program for industrial users and beverage makers.

The BusinessMirror recently broke the story that the SRA is looking at 300,000-MT additional sugar imports to ensure adequate supply until the next milling season peaks. (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2022/08/03/phl-eyes-300k-mt-sugarimports-as-yields-plunge/)

Production stagnates

The OECD-FAO projected that the Philippines’s sugar production from 2023 to 2031 would average at 2.213 million MT with sugarcane output averaging at 20.463 million MT during the 9-year period.

The OECD-FAO also estimated that the average sugarcane area harvested in the Philippines in the next 9 years would be at 375,668 hectares with an average yield of 54.46 MT per hectare.

The Philippines’s sugar production in crop year 2021-2022 plunged by 16 percent year-on-year to 1.8 million MT, its lowest level in 22 years.

Total sugarcane milled in the current crop year was at 20.8 million MT, slightly higher than the previous crop year’s 20.798 million MT.

SRA Administrator Hermenegildo R. Serafica told the BusinessMirror that the country’s raw sugar output in crop year 2021-2022 could have hit 2.2 million MT “if not only for the excessive rainfall” that affected sugar yield or recovery in sugarcanes. The growth of late milling sugarcanes was also stunted due to the residual effect of Supertyphoon Odette on sugarcane plantations.

Nonetheless, Serafica remains optimistic that the country’s sugar production would rebound with the release of new planting technologies and implementation of programs aimed at optimizing sugarcane farming.

“But with the potential of our newly released sugarcane varieties and the on-going expansion of seed cane areas all over the Philippines, the sugarcane industry will surely have a good chance in battling the challenges in the ever-changing climate and high cost of farm inputs [fertilizer and fuel],” he said.

On climate risk mitigation, “we will monitor and use weather data to optimize the farm decision making by installing additional Automatic Weather Station [AWS] to determine when will be the best opportunity to plant and harvest,” he added.

Serafica said the SRA will promote planting technologies that “optimize” sugar recovery of early milling sugarcanes “through drone-assisted spraying of ripeners.”

The use of Beneficial Microorganism (BMO) is also being promoted to “compensate for the inorganic fertilizer reduction of our farmers due to high cost.” Nitrogen-fixing bacteria specific to sugarcane is used; when sprayed on sugarcane, it can “reduce the requirement for fertilizer up to 30 percent.”

Image credits: Nonie Reyes