I have taken local countryside vistas for granted for many, many years. I have spent so much of my life in huge metropolitan areas, all over the world, often in highly congested and polluted cities like Manila, so it isn’t a surprise that I am now increasingly drawn to visiting more rural or provincial locales. A personal promise to see more of the Philippines is also pushing me to pursue trips to places that I have never been to before… So, considering that I was born in Cebu, spent summers there as a kid and recently have taken over 80 trips to the city in the past 6 years, it amazes me how little of the island I have actually visited. Marketman & family made it to Carcar a few months ago, and a couple of weeks ago, I took some of our office crew on a road and boat trip up to Malapascua Island. As we headed further North, the mountainous, hilly, craggly landscape of central cebu suddendly shifted to an incredibly verdant green, with sugar plantations in and around Bogo and Medellin, definitely a soothing sight for sore eyes.
I always knew there was a large farming area in Northern Cebu, and have even caught glimpses of the vast sugarcane fields from the air; but I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality. Roughly 7,500 hectares in and around Bogo are planted to sugar, that is a whopping 75 square kilometers! I didn’t even know there was that much flat land on the island of Cebu! Besides sugar, there are coconut and banana plantations as well as a few fruit orchards. Flat land and gently sloping terrain make for picture perfect views all around. Oh, and some of the huge century old narra and acacia trees in the area are also a personal favorite.
Just after the turn of the last century, a few prominent families from Cebu must have discovered the agricultural potential of the area and started buying up land, probably for a centavo a square meter or less, and planting sugarcane. In 1928, or 80 years ago, the Bogo-Medellin Milling Company opened for business, and in its heyday, this Northern agricultural area must have provided incredible income for just a few Cebuano families, many of them related to each other, and who together controlled several thousand hectares of sugarcane plantations. Though certainly tiny in scale when compared to haciendas in Negros, Central Luzon and even Batangas, I was still amazed by our drive through this area, which was relatively sparsely populated, but so incredibly verdant.
It seems a bit odd to be doing a post on a bunch of sugarcane fields, but the experience was and eye opener for me. A lot of this land has already been land reformed and will soon be distributed to individual tenants and landholders. I hope they are at least able to make good with the small parcels they receive, as I have always been a sceptic of land reform, if it is not supported by adequate financing, education and farming knowledge, heavy equipment and fertilizers, etc. I always believed that in agriculture, you are most likely to yield the best results if you have economies of scale; but that is a personal opinion, and given that my own family has given up so much land to land reform in Bicol and elsewhere, I am obviously biased. Then again, for a country such as ours, which should be a powerhouse in the agricultural sector, we can’t even manage to grow enough rice for our own consumption, and have to import the staple from neighbors such as Vietnam and Thailand… and that being the case even though we are HOST to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos which is supposed to be at the fulcrum of the development of new types of rice that provide the maximum yield per hectare… At any rate, some of the simplest and most enjoyable things in life are almost free, like this drive through the haciendas in Northern Cebu!