BANAUE, Ifugao – Instead of letting cogon grasses rule over fertile lands, farmers of Lagawe have decided to make a sweet and edible gold out of these cogon lands by cultivating sugarcane that they now use to produce quality muscovado.
Led by the Social Action and Development Center, a church-based Lagawe non-government organization, and with the leadership of Lagawe parish priest Valentin Dimoc of the Good Shepherd Mission Station, farmers of barangays Jucbong, Abinuan, and Dulao organized the Kataguwan Muscovado Processors Association and are currently setting an example to their fellow farmers by planting sugarcane as a year-round agricultural crop. This serves not only as their source of income but is also a permanent fertilizing agent and cover for their soil.
Aside from rice which Ifugao considers a prestige crop, sugarcane is also a common crop in the town and other areas in the province, Fr. Dinoc said. Thus, they agreed it is the appropriate agricultural crop to plant after they cleared about five hectares of cogon lands in Jucbong and Abinuan and three hectares in Dulao.
“Rather than being idle, we decided to make it productive,” Fr. Dinoc said after giving an update on their venture at the SN Aboitiz stakeholders’ forum at the Banaue Hotel recently.
Only more than two years in existence, the association started with assistance from the corporate social responsibility program of SN Aboitiz. Fr. Dinoc said they bought a truckload of planting materials in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya and brought it to Lagawe. The farmers in the three barangays who are members of the association started planting and growing sugarcane.
Compared to corn, Fr. Dinoc said sugarcane is better in terms of income that can be generated as it can be planted year-round. It is also perfect for selective harvesting (harvest can be done any month of the year), typhoon resilient, and does not require the application of fertilizer. In fact, the plant’s dried leaves, when mixed with the soil, serve as natural fertilizers.
“Since we have targeted from the beginning to sell quality muscovado, no pesticides, no chemical fertilizers, and no herbicides are used in our plantation,” Fr. Dinoc said.
The group invited Tony Tangid, an expert from Mountain Province, who trained the farmers the proper way of planting, that is, maintaining a two-meter distance between paddies to give space when harvesting, among other techniques.
The farmers, including Fr. Dinoc, also trained on muscovado making. They were taught how to extract juice from the sugarcane using a crusher provided them with the help of the Department of Labor and Employment. Their cook is based in Dulao.
While they have already started selling, Fr. Dinoc said they continue improving their efficiency in juice extraction to also improve their finished product.
At the moment, they have a production ratio of 4.25 liters of sugarcane extract to one kilo of muscovado sugar. About 60 liters of juice can be cooked in three hours, which is equivalent to 14 kilos of sugar. They spend an average of P75 to produce a kilo of muscovado, which they sell at P100 per kilo.
With technical support from the Department of Trade and Industry, which helped in the packaging, and in partnership with SNAP for the planting and training support, farmer-beneficiaries have proven that their effort has a high potential of becoming a sustainable development livelihood project. SNAP considers the Lagawe farmers’ endeavor as an alternative development/working model to other sugarcane-growing areas in Ifugao, which may then lead to expansion of muscovado production.
The venture of the association, which now has 30 members, comes in time when there is a current high demand for organic food products like muscovado among consumers who want to change into healthy lifestyle and promote good eating habits. Compared to refined sugar, muscovado is known for being a healthier substitute sweetener and has more nutrient contents. It contains more vitamins and minerals than the regular sugar, offers fewer empty calories, and has fewer chemicals.
With this, SNAP committed to remain a partner of the farmers in the next five years until the group succeeds in its venture.
The young enterprise at the moment is in the process of introducing their quality muscovado and other organic products and is initially marketing within the province particularly in Lagawe and Banaue. Fr. Dinoc serves as a roaming store, bringing with him samples of their products and offering it to interested buyers.