One of the more impressive things I learned during our recently concluded Supply Chain Immersion in Bacolod is the use of drones to apply fertilizer to growing sugar cane.
Well, all right, it’s not really impressive in a ground-breaking way, considering drones are being used for a lot of things now. But in that instance everything just clicked into place.
We mentioned in our last column how, despite the continued strength of the sugar industry in Negros, more farmers are choosing to give up their lands—selling them to developers looking to build new subdivisions, or malls, or BPO offices—rather than to continue with the slow grind of farming. I imagine that as farmers grow older and die, their children choose to pursue other means of making a living, which exacerbates this slow-motion problem of the island’s sugar mills having less cane to process.
It’s not all gloom, however: we’re told that there are younger farmers taking a chance on the crop. But then there are other problems at play. Even if Negros is known for its fertile land (in the shadow of Mount Kanlaon) and there’s a lot of sugar to go around, a good harvest is not guaranteed. There’s natural and manmade disasters, and then there are the vagaries of the crop itself. Chances are farmers will only know about this when they deliver their sugar cane to the mills: right then and there they get tested for sugar content. Sometimes this leads farmers to think they’re being cheated out of the money they believe they’re owed.
Collaboration is one way of addressing these issues. We’re seeing sugar mills assist farmers not just through financial schemes and technical support, but also by providing them access to research that could help them improve their harvest. It can be by providing seedlings, or by providing them insight into new farming methods. It is a win-win solution: sugar mills get more product out to the market, and farmers get to earn more—important considering how uncertain and unforgiving farming can be.
I’ve had this in mind during a government consultation I attended alongside representatives from several agricultural sectors. It’s great, they contended, that they are provided greater access to external markets, but with their product just one among many others from other countries—products that can be, and tend to be, of better quality—they don’t have much of a chance. Surely more support from government will be appreciated, they said, whether it be through better connections to trade networks, or through an investment environment more conducive to value-added processes, or through amping up research and development.
Well, both the public and private sector are working towards that, but with mixed results. But not for lack of trying. Infrastructure—it’s picking up pace, although some will say it’s slower than needed. Investment—there definitely are success stories; just visit the Clark/Subic corridor, or Cebu. Research and development? This remains a challenge. Despite the efforts of various government agencies—I recall DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña’s address during our Supply Chain Outlook earlier this year—we still have a long way to go with regards to boosting R&D capabilities. And any efforts that are going on (and providing good results) are not maximized because of a lack of alignment among stakeholders.
If we get this right, the impact will be immense, not just on the agricultural side, but across the supply chain. Better harvests; more efficient (and apt for the Philippine setting) production processes; unique value-added approaches that can provide the Philippines a niche in global markets. Or, perhaps, just good old refinements in the process of putting together, say, a pair of shoes. The world is crazy for the “artisanal” tag—why can’t we take advantage?
General Membership Meeting: Our next GMM is scheduled for June 20 at the EDSA Shangri-la in Mandaluyong. We’ll be looking at new and upcoming transport regulations with Dr. Henry Basilio of USAID-RESPOND, Marilyn Alberto of PMTLAI, and more to be announced. Register online at scmap.org.
Changes to the SCMAP board: Finally, we would like to wish our vice president Clarisse Castillo the best of luck as she leaves the SCMAP board of directors to take up a new role with Johnson & Johnson in Singapore. We would also like to welcome Renato Casas of JG Summit Petrochemical who is joining us as one of our directors. We will have further updates on new officers in the coming days.
Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.