The problem with hacienda system
It is not surprising that the price of sugar continues to decline by 21-26 percent in the current milling season. This despite the increase in the sweetener’s demand by more than 30 percent. Surely there is something amiss with the law of supply and demand.
The culprit? The Department of Agriculture and the government’s continuous importation of high fructose corn syrup as approved by the agriculture secretary and the President. They have been encouraging the use of HFCS because of its low price and the reduction in the production process, thus maximizing profits.
The effect? Sugar farmers, factory workers and small landlords are definitely affected. On the other hand, big landlords remain unaffected because of the arriendo system wherein they’re sure of the land rent by the arriendadores, usually on a 3-5 years term lease.
Sugar farmers (sacada) and factory workers are the ones most affected because the milling season is not a whole- year activity. During the off-milling season, which lasts for a few months, farmers and workers are in debt because they don’t have work. During the milling season, they are just paying their debt (with interest, of course) incurred during the off-season. So for the whole year, farmers and workers are in debt which keeps on piling up.
We are witnessing, once again, the sugar industry crisis that started in 1974, when the United States’ law on sugar quota expired, and Philippine sugar was sold in the open market. The unfortunate consequence was the dramatic decline of sugar shipments to the United States. The surplus supply was stored in basketball courts, bowling alleys, warehouses, even in backyards.
Years later, one sees the face of poverty in Negros with that of Joel Abong, the severely malnourished child of a sacada, who made international headlines. And now, the social volcano of poverty is ready to erupt any time in Negros.
That is the problem with monocrop agriculture. This agrarian problem of hacienda system has been going on for centuries since the Spanish colonial period and yet, no Philippine president has tried to solve it.
If only sugar farmers and workers could have a piece of land they can cultivate for their partial subsistence, especially during off-milling season, then there will be poverty reduction.
How is that for inclusive growth?
JEREMY ANG, political detainee, Camp Crame, Cubao, QC
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