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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

BY THE time this column sees print, the House committee on ways and means would have held a hearing on the Sugarcane Bill, which isn’t about just sugar.

There is life after sugar, after all. How does the bill deals with value additions to the crop? Let us count the ways.

Third District Representative Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benítez said his bill will raise the value of sugarcane through the creation of integrated agro-industrial economic zones that will not only produce sugar, but fuel, power, bioplastics, etcetera.


The bill, among other things, proposes the creation of special economic zone for sugarcane, to facilitate the establishment of diversified industries using sugarcane as raw materials.

If I may give my two-cents, we can also add these diversified end-items to the value chain.

Sugarcane can be used to manufacture chipboard, paper, barrages, confectionery, uses in chemicals, paints, synthetics, fiber, insecticides and detergents.

Alcohols made from sugarcane are used for making detergents, paints and as solvents for a broad range of products. Perfume or after-shave, for instance, most likely contain sugarcane alcohol as a solvent.

Brazilian sugarcane is a competitive feedstock source that is opening the door to a wide range of bio-based products. We cannot underestimate the importance of the feedstock for the chemical industry and sugarcane processing can lead to low cost feedstocks.

So much products can be produced from sugarcane beyond sugar. Negrenses will be selling themselves short if they insist on sugar as the be-all, end-all products of the value chain.

We have to wean ourselves from our comfort zone that sugarcane is equal to sugar.

For the sugarcane bill to fly, however, Negrense society has to repackage its entrepreneurial class to wade through uncharted waters. It can be frightening, as anything new and untested does to a newbie.

But as American author Napoleon Hill said, “Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” Hill was one of the earliest producers of the modern genre of personal-success literature.

I support the road map that the Sugar Regulatory Administration is pushing for – the overarching plan toward a sustainable and multi-product sugarcane industry which promotes job generation, foreign direct investments, improved income for the producers (farmers and processors) and workers, energy sufficiency, climate-smart environment, community development and economic growth in general.

Negrense society has to branch out its workforce to produce expert chemists and chemical engineers, electrical engineers, etcetera. In other words, the champions of the sugar industry will have to shift from the planters and sugarcane workers to industrialists and professional and skilled processors.

Negros Occidental has to evolve from an agricultural monoculture to one that is, at the minimum, an agro-industrial economy, and at best, to launch nothing less than an industrial revolution.

Advances in agricultural techniques and practices can result in an increased supply of food and raw materials, crop processing can lead to the creation of industrial manufacturing, and the introduction of new technology can lead to increased production, efficiency. An increase in commerce, foreign and domestic, can create new income streams. Many of these conditions will be so closely interactive that increased activity in one can spur an increase in activity in another.

Higher education especially from the scientific and technological fields from among the children of both planters and farm workers will hasten the shift and make the transition less painful.

Are Negrenses up to the challenge that the sugarcane bill proposes?

We have to believe that we can in order to survive. More than that, to thrive under a new economic paradigm.


Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 14, 2014.


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