Fields of Sugar…


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!



23 Responses

  1. Kinda off-topic, MM, but I grew up in Los Baños, and reading this post made me wonder whether you have other readers from UPLB…

  2. Pictures perfect great for postcard! My family is and was severely affected by the biggest blunder of the so-called New Society of Ferdinand Marco – the agrarian reform! I learned later it was brainstormed by Tatang Dadong Macapagal and his dysfunctional cabinet members. Up to this time, we are in ensuing battle with the supposedly tenants of my grandparents due to parent and sibling relationships of the tenants – their grandparents were the tenants according to them they are now the direct heirs to the tenancy for the seven hectares spared land. We have a mango farm since the inception of the tenancy which is sizable in size and not part of agricultural land reform. Our tenants who benefited to agrarian reform sold their land to Korean and Chinese people and the proceeds from the sale were long gone. Now they are buried in hardship. The tenants’ family now subdivided the mango land themselves which they claim entitlement and built concrete houses with fence there. I told my siblings to give up our rights rather than get involved in this protracted and ugly tenancy fight since they are threatening to finish our roots if we insist our rights! My other sibling suggested we take a loan and just let the loan defaulted and let the bank take care of them. And here is the catch the bank is giving us a quarter for a peso which is not a good deal.

  3. You are right there MM about land reform. The beneficiaries end up selling their small land holdings because they do not have the means to develop them.
    Sugarcane lands are all over Ormoc too and is common sight here.
    But the way you photographed them, it is a sight to behold.

  4. Like you, I also made a personal promise last year to see more of the Phils. It’s shameful that I’ve seen more places abroad than in my own country! So I’m happy you’re doing the same and blogging about it, because I learn more about what there is out there and can make plans to visit them someday. I am looking forward to your post and pictures of Malapascua! Thanks, MM.

  5. It’s the best time of the year to enjoy countryside sceneries, thanks for the posts MM! Looking forward to your Malapascua posts, Ive always wanted to go there!

    On another note, I was shocked to learn recently that WE are the world’s biggest importer of rice!! Isnt that scandalous for an agricultural country?

  6. I totally agree with you MM for being skeptic about land reform. Growing up in Nueva Ecija, most farmers end up selling the 1 or 2 hectares they got from land reform.

  7. It’s funny. This is the second blog post I’ve read in the space of a week that speaks about land reform. I don’t really agree with it, either. My family’s lost a bit of land because of it as well.

    Speaking about rice… I’ve been aware about the “rice crisis” affecting Asia for a while now. Apparently it’s not just hitting poor people or poor countries. Just today there was an article here in California about some big store chains deciding to limit how much rice customers can buy at any given time. Wow. I guess it’s a global rice shortage for real, huh…

  8. I agree with you on land reform MM. It is not realistic to think that giving the agricultural land to the tenants will help them. they usually end up in debt and sell the land anyway as they usually do not have the capacity to get the necessary equipment, materials, resources and know-how to make the land really productive. Although it meant well it most probably was scheme to get more voters for politicians. Though I am not in complete agreement with the kind of sakada-hacendero deal either as it led to abuse of the poor but there should have been a lot of thought and planning so both sides and the populace will benefit before they enacted it.

  9. we went diving in Malapascua first in 2002, the place was terrific, then as their popularity rises, more people visted and the place went downhill, was there again in 2004 and trash is every where… Hope your trip brings new hopeto this “boracay”…

  10. bacolod MM…. go to Bacolod…. soon… Masskara festival perhaps??…. sipalay perhaps?….. silay?….. mambukal at the foot of Mt. Kanlaon?….. go to Bacolod, the the Best City to Live In the PHilippines (according to Mar2008 issue of Moneysense mag)…. cheers!

  11. yup,the best things in life are free, pure, plain and simple :)
    jacob’s mom, had my elementary, high school and college in uplb, taking my masters now after ten years.

  12. My dad studied in UPLB and when he was still working in the country, we would take a trip once a month and it always included stopping at the DITRI and at IRRI.

    Beautiful photos, MM. As always! :) If you hadn’t said they were sugarcane fields, I would’ve thought they were rice fields – the kind I see in my mother’s home province up north.

  13. Jacob’s Mom, I’m not from LB but from Calamba. In the 70s, a trip from San Pedro to Calamba offers a good view of vast rice fields…now all real estate. When I was in my early 20s, I usually spent my vacation wandering through UPLB because my best friend lives there. Lots of my high school friends studied there. So sad that other Asian countries did better in cultivating rice– enough to export, despite IRRI being located in the Philippines. Yesterday, a rice vendor said that rice can reach about P40.00 per kilo.Maybe we should teach ourselves to eat sweet potato or corn? I think bread is more expensive.

  14. I asked my mom to buy a 50lb rice for me at a retail store [Sam’s Club] and was shocked that the price doubled from how much it cost couple of months ago! A 50-pound bag now costs $25! In addition to that, costumers are limited to purchase 4 bags at a time.

    [Sigh] There sure is a rice shortage going on…

  15. rushie, that was cheap last Sunday I went to A-1 grocery on Sunset and a 25 lbs jasmine rice is $22

  16. alilay and rushie, pretty good Thai jasmine is about $1.20 a kilo in Manila markets right now. That’s roughly 55 U.S. cents per pound, so it’s still cheaper here I guess…

  17. a relatively nearer place to see fields of sugar cane and experience the rural activities of this business, and probably just as scenic, is the drive down to nasugbu batangas.

  18. I wonder if anyone has any idea on the outcome of land reform, in terms of productivity. Talking to Filipino expats here in Australia, I was informed that in areas where land reform was first implemented, sales, even of necessities such as batteries, would plunge due to economic distress.
    yet in socialsit countries such as Hungary and China, the small plot agriculture has been crucial in maintaining national productivity (as opposed to the large scale collectives).
    I can understand land reform resulting in less productivity,
    not only because of negating economies of scale, but also because production of agriculture is more than planting – there is a need for credit structures, planning, and distribution. A business is a business.

  19. My mom is from Tarlac, and her parents, bros and sis are farmers, their compund is surrounded with tall sugarcane plantations, you could get lost if you dare go inside those fields. . .

  20. Land reform is so poorly institutionalized in our country but the program is riddled with one big problem and that is corruption! A few years ago the CARP compulsorily and without notice took our land which is now prime real estate in Bacolod City, even before they took it it was already earmarked by the city government for commercial/industrial land in 1966, CARP by Presidential Decree was issued in 1972. We are pursuing the case, and even if we are so near the results that would nullify the errouneous conversion we have yet to experience the cooperation of the DAR. The “benefactors” (they are not supposed to) have sold their shares of the property expecially the ones by the hiway and now there are commercial establishments that have been built there. We know there had been no justice for the original landowner but we cannot do anything until we get the support of the current DAR administraion to correct this unjust and unfair oversight of the “corruption” that has plagued this institution from the very begining.



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