Sugar Cane Farmer in Negros Occidental, Philippines

Have you ever wondered what life is like behind the white beaches and cool blue waters in the Philippines? Well for most of the local farmers, the sea is a weekend respite and not an international holiday idea. 99.9% of a Philippine farmhand will never experience and international holiday, and most only see the world on TV or on the internet. One of the hardest sectors of work is growing rice and sugar in the Philippines. A recent change in how sugar cane is grown will increase productivity for these small agricultural landowners. Most farmers work long hours and get paid little, in fact, 300,000 farmers in the Negros Occidental islands get paid around 500PHP for weeding a hectare of land. This is the equivalent of $10 per hectare or less than $1 per hour of work. So the next time you pour a teaspoon of sugar in your coffee or tea, think of the backbreaking workers that gave you this wonderful sweetness.

The sugar cane market was the sole proprietorship of “hacienderos” or rich landlords that owned lots of lands, cornering the market, so that small landowners had to sell sugar cane through their exchanges. This is changing as a new system of planting is proving to be better for small landowners, bringing a bigger return on investment through smart planting.

Tubo, which is how Filipinos call sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) is processed in 12 refineries which produce sugar and molasses. The Philippines produced 2.5 million metric tons of sugar in 2012, valued at 70 billion PHP, 50% of this was produced in the Negros Occidental. The new system will double this and bring a much sought-after respite for many farmers.

Clustering Method of Production (CluMP)
The clump is a system where sugarcane is planted in clusters of 40cm deep holes, and this produces 105 metric tons per hectare rather than the usual 60 metric ton yield. It also frees up space to grow other produce in the months when the sugar cane is growing, bringing in seasonal income that was sorely missing.
The new system requires small landowners to come together and work as a collective, cooperating with the use of their land. Through pooling their resources, local farmers lower costs and raise yield, bringing about the great reform that will hopefully save them and their next generations from years of servitude to the land.

The CluMP is a technology that will help the Philippines maintain a competitive edge in a market dominated by Brazil and Thailand. Roxas Holdings Incorporated (RHI) is a private company that provides technical assistance and is a driving force behind the creation of farm cooperatives. Roxas Holdings, Inc. (PSEi: ROX; RHI) is the largest integrated sugar business and the biggest ethanol producer in the Philippines. With over a century of experience, RHI helps identify which other produce is best for planting and reaping during the “Tiempo Muerto” months of April to August, when farmers must wait for the sugar cane to grow.

“The new CluMP process will increase productivity, reduce poverty and build a stronger agricultural infrastructure,” according to RHI spokesperson. Agriculture is 40% of the Philippines economy. It is also the main source of water use, soil erosion, and land conversion as well as contributing to 30% of all pollution and pesticide poisoning. Introducing new “green” technologies will free up farming from a lot of its damaging byproducts.