Ilocos exporter eyes global demand for sweet sorghum sugar

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By Anna Valmero

BATAC, ILOCOS NORTE – In addition to coconut sugar, the Philippines will soon introduce  a sweetener from sweet sorghum cane marketed as a healthy alternative for diabetics, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The DA, through the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), is funding a P4 million project for the production of sweet sorghum sugar including product improvement and testing to marketing.

The product can also open up more jobs for Filipino farmers because the cane is drought resistant and is suitable for planting in non-irrigated, marginal areas, said BAR Director Nicomedes Eleazar.

“We hope this becomes a commercial success because there is a big need for anti-diabetic products in the local and export market. Fortunately, we have the technical capability to produce sweet sorghum,” said Eleazar.

Private firm Bapamin Enterprises targets to produce a sample volume by August, according to general manager Antonio Arcangel.

Since 2005, BAR has been conducting field trials of sweet sorghum varieties developed by India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). This enabled the country access to intellectual property rights over superior drought resistant crops.

Bapamin now has a 25-hectare area planted to sweet sorghum SPV 422 variety in Batac, Ilocos Norte. The variety can produce 20,000 liters per hectare.

For production, sweet sorghum only requires a quarter of the water needed to irrigate a sugarcane plantation.

Aside from being natural, sweet sorghum has a fine and distinctly sweet taste with a rating of 23 degrees Brix level, notches higher compared to sugarcane’s 17 to 18.

Just five years ago, the country gave way to the commercial release of a low-GI (glycemic index) sweetener from coconut sap.  Since then,  Thailand and Indonesia have followed production of coconut sap sugar for their own export.

This time again, the Philippines may turn out to be the first in the world to produce powdered sweet sorghum sweetener, said Eleazar.

Bapamin has started talks with potential markets or distributors including Concord, which is affiliated with General Milling Corp., a company that has an export network.

The Department of Trade and Industry is also looking at the possibility of sweet sorghum sweetener for export particularly to Japan and South Korea where the country also exports coconut sap sugar.

Unlike in coconut sap sugar production, which is done virtually on manual methods from harvest to cooking for sugar crystallization, sweet sorghum production is automated, allowing for bulk volume production.

Arcangel said they have a processor that can produce 10 liters of sweet sorghum juice in an hour, which in turn translates to 1,495 satchets. Each five-gram satchet can be sold at P3.50 each.

The Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Industrial Technology Development Institute, and the Mariano Marcos State University are being tapped by BAR to carry out taste improvement and testing for the product.

The sweet sorghum sugar is expected to have a low glycemic index (GI) level as that of coconut sap sugar at 35. This is considerably lower than the 65 to 100 GI level for sugarcane sweeteners. A sweetener with lower GI means that there is no significant increase in blood sugar once a food is consumed.

Get more information on Bapamin Enterprises

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