Success Story: The Sweetness of Shared Success

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A worker carries the last batch of harvest from a sugar block farm in. Men get the land ready for
the next planting season (below). Photo: DAR Balayan, Batangas


The concept is so simple yet so often overlooked: there is strength in numbers. In an industry such as sugarcane farming, in a country that fights tooth-and-nail for a share of the world sugar market; this concept could mean life or death for a small farmland. Where Leopoldo Bathan is from, sugarcane farmers are alive and planting. Bathan is among 43 farmers from barangay Lucban in Balayan, Batangas who have enrolled their farms in the government’s Sugarcane Convergence Program, or simply, sugar block farming. Bathan’s 2-ha land, divided into several plots, has enjoyed a25-percent increase in yield sincethe program was launched in the area last year. His 6,000-sq.m. Plot, which usually yields 30 tons of sugarcane per harvest, yielded 37 tons this season, he said. “A soil analysis was conducted and the farmers were taught the correct practice in sugarcane farming,” Elvin Mirasol, the municipal agrarian reform officer of Balayan, said as hired workers hauled the season’s harvest onto a truck given by the Department of Agrarian Reform for use of the program enrolees. Of the 43 farmers in the program, 31 are agrarian reform beneficiaries who are members of the Lucban Multi-Purpose Cooperative (LMPC). Through the cooperative, which managesthe collective farming program, farmers can get their farm input for a much lower price and take out loans to pay for these without interest. “If the farmers get a loan directly from Landbank (for the farm input), they have to pay 9.8 percent interest. If the cooperative buys the input for them, they don’t pay any interest to the cooperative. It’s the cooperative that pays interest to Landbank,” Mirasol explained.


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Maria Teresa Mayuga, whose parents, grandparents and six siblings, have tilled the family’s small sugarcane farms for decades, says she was often forced to get a loan because she didn’t have enough money for fertilizers whenever planting season came. A hectare of sugarcane farm requires at least 20 bags of fertilizers, which alone would cost her at least P5, 000, a big amount for a farmer relying on a crop that is harvested only once a year.

 

“Life was hard then, so I was always borrowing money,” she said. Now, as part of a block farm, she can expect lower cost and better yield every year. The Sugarcane Convergence Program, a joint endeavour by the DAR, Department of Agriculture and Sugar Regulatory Administration, seeks to consolidate farms smaller than 10 has. and within a 2-km radius of one another, to come up an aggregate area of at least 30 has. For plantation scale farming. This scheme is now being implemented in 12 sugar-producing provinces: Albay, Batangas, Pampanga and Tarlac in Luzon; Antique, Capiz, Iloilo, Leyte, Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental in the Visayas; and Bukidnon and Davao del Sur in Mindanao. The government will put in P41 million worth of investments for 29 new block farms being eyed this year. In barangay Lucban, the farms of the 43 enrolees have formed a total area of 35 has. Other areas in Batangas like Tuy, Lian and Nasugbu have also adopted sugar block farming. These areas have been given dump trucks that can carry up to 12 tons of sugarcane and tractors for land preparation. Besides increased productivity of 60 tons to 75 tons of sugarcane per hectare, another goal of the program is to bring down the cost of production from P1,100 to P900 per LKg (1 LKg = a 50-kilo bag of sugar). “We used to pay P800/bag of fertilizer, but now we only get it for P565/bag,” said Melanie Cabral, program manager in barangay Lucban and beneficiary of a 5,000-sq.m. Sugarcane farm. She has been in sugarcane farming since she was young, as have all the farm owners, but it was only during a training session with agricultural experts that she learned the proper and most efficient way to plant sugarcane. Instead of leaving a foot of space between canes, she and the other farmers were taught to use the kadena (chain) system, which gave them more space for planting. While the results have been promising so far, convincing other farmers to enrol in sugar block farming remains a challenge. “Some think they would have a new master and they would become mere farm hands again,” Cabral said of the sentiments of other farmers not involved in sugar block farming. But those who have loved and not lost in the new scheme know better: the sour doubts will soon be lost in the sweetness of the next harvest.