, January 19, 2005  (STAR) By Rudy A. Fernandez  -  The local sugar industry has emerged from the distress years in the 1980s and 1990s to become once again a "sunrise industry" of the country.

And now it can be said: the industry’s dramatic turnaround can be considerably attributed to the Mill District Development Councils (MDDCs).

MDDCs are grassroots-level groups tasked with implementing sugar productivity enhancement programs in their respective sugar milling districts.

The councils were created by the Department of Agriculture-Sugar Regulatory Administration (DA-SRA) and organized by the Philippine Sugar Research Institute Foundation, Inc. (Philsurin). Philsurin was established in 1995 through the initiative of the National Council of Sugar Producers to undertake research, development, and extension (RDE) activities.

Each of the sugar mill districts now has its MDDC, which functions primarily to identify the district’s productivity concerns and problems. The councils’ main responsibilities are to develop and disseminate improved technologies.

An MDDC is composed of representatives from millers, planters, SRA, and other organizations. Each council has an office, nurseries, a greenhouse to rare tissue-cultured sugarcane plantlets, hot water treatment facilities, and a weather station.

Activities of the MDDCs, now numbering 26, include propagation and dispersal of high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of sugarcane, disease prevention, pest control, varietal testing, soil rejuvenation, and publication. They also organize and conduct seminars and farm tours.

Providing strong research and development (R&D) back-up to the MDDCs are resident plant breeders, plant pathologists, agronomists, microbiologists, crop physiologists, and molecular plant breeders, seven of whom were Philsurin scholars who now hold doctorate degrees. UP Los Baños also lends valuable technical support to a number of Philsurin studies.

The institute provides the MDDCs with a coordinator who implements and monitors district projects. It also funds the councils’ development and extension activities.

Since the organization of the MDDCs, they have been undertaking massive distribution of pest- and disease-resistant HYVs of sugarcane, reported Philsurin, currently headed by Director General Leon Arceo.

During the 1996-2002 period, it distributed 483.41 million planting materials costing P128.21 million.

Moreover, 14 HYVs have been registered with the National Seed Industry Council (NSIC)–seven from Philsurin and seven from SRA.

Recently, too, the institute released two more HYVs (PS 4 or VMC 95-152 and PS 5 or VMC 95-09) to a number of sugar mill districts.

Thus, in just half a decade, sugar production has risen by a hefty 43.55 percent from 1.63 million metric tons in 1999 to 2.34 MT in crop year 2003-2004–the highest in 20 years.

"The secret behind the sugar industry’s success is the active involvement of stakeholders through the MDDCs," said Arceo. "They defined their own problems, decide which projects to prioritize, outline methodologies and craft solutions that would best address their needs."

He added that Philsurin prepares RDE plans with inputs from the MDDCs. It raises the allocated funds, and monitors and assesses results of ongoing projects. The MDDCs take care of the rest.

SRA Administrator James Ledesma has also described the MDDCs as "the principal change-agents which bailed out the sugar industry from a continuous downslide."

"The MDDCs really are the backbone of Philsurin. They speed up the delivery of services to beneficiaries," said Federico Barredo, MDDC coordinator for the Victorias Milling Corp. district.

For instance, now available for distribution to all MDDCs are a carabao-drawn fertilizer applicator, in-field hauler, and "blockbuster" 3-in-1 (fertilizer applicator, off-baring operation, and weeder-cultivator), all invented by Barredo, who holds a master’s degree in plant pathology from UP Los Baños. Barredo has also co-authored a manual on seed cane production.

Manuel Gallego, Hawaiian Philippines Company (Silay-Saravia) MDDC coordinator, is currently conducting an assessment study to determine yield loss caused by the yellow leaf syndrome. Gallego is testing sugarcane varieties from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, as well.

"All plant materials produced here are ratoon stunting disease-free," added Mario Magno, MDDC coordinator of the La Carlota Milling District, who is in charge of a micropropagation laboratory that produces 10,000 sugarcane plantlets every week.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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