POLANGUI, ALBAY- Ever heard of muscovado sugar? In the upland barangay of Balaba, this municipality, over 500 hectares of coconut areas are planted with sugarcane. Thus, two muscovado milling facilities are thriving here and helping the organic muscovado industry gain ground in the local market.
The Arim’s Muscovado milling facility owned by couple Arnel and Maricel Base is one of the milling facilities being supported by the local government of Polangui and other government agencies. Arnel and Maricel started in the sugarcane business in 2010. They loaned P139,000 from the CARD Inc. for the establishment of the simple milling facility then. The CARD Inc. also provided Arnel some training on muscovado processing in Ilocos Norte. Eventually, they acquired a sugarcane crusher or juicer and pulverizer from the Department of Trade and Industry.
Maricel is the president of the Polangui Organic Calamay Muscovado Producers and Farmers Association (POCAMPROFA). It has 29 members and was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a legit farmers’ organization in January 2016.
Last year, the Organic Agriculture Program of the Department of Agriculture provided P1.5 million to the LGU of Polangui for the rehabilitation of the muscovado processing facilities. This year, the DA Bicol Organic Agriculture program helped the POCAMPROFA apply for the 3rd party organic agriculture certification for their muscovado products from the OCCP to boost the market value of their muscovado and satisfy what the health conscious consumers are craving for – an organic label. This April, a team from the OCCP will visit their facilities and the POCAMPROFA farmers to validate their application. She is optimistic that the result will be on their favor because their products are first class muscovado sugar.
The name muscovado was derived from the Spanish word “mascabado” which means unrefined. Muscovado is also known as organic sugar. It is natural cane sugar and can be compared to honey in terms of health benefits.
Sugarcane juice is extracted using a cane crasher and the juice is heated for two hours until it forms into unrefined sugar. Due to lack of refining, it retains much of the nutritional contents of the sugarcane juice. Unlike processing for white sugar, the molasses is not separated from the sugar stream when the cane is crushed.
Raw sugar contains organic properties such as glucose, which is easily absorbed by the body and provides it with more energy. It is also believed to improve circulation, increase blood cell production, and enhance digestion. Thus, health conscious consumers who prefer organic sugar over cancer causing sweeteners look for muscovado in the market.
Polangui Municipal Agriculturist Alfredo Mariscotez attested that the sugarcane in all areas of Polangui are naturally grown and free from chemicals.
Eduardo Ronda, sugarcane farmer from neighboring barangay of Cipres said they don’t apply any chemical fertilizer in their cane. “Mapula ang kalamay pag may fertilizer, he enthused.”
The members of the POCAMPROFA believes that having an organic certification tucked in their products will mean more buyers and better price for their muscovado.
Training on Muscovado Production and Processing
On April 5 and 6, 2017, some 25 sugarcane farmers of Polangui attended a training on Muscovado Production and Processing sponsored by the Provincial Agriculture Service of Albay in cooperation with the Polangui Municipal Agriculture Office and the DA Regional Field Office No. 5
Maricel was one of the speakers during the training. She expertly demonstrated the steps in processing muscovado starting from selection of matured sugarcane and crushing the cane to extract the juice using a crushing machine. Then the juice will be filtered through a strainer and poured into a huge pot where it will be cooked for more than two hours. This is the most laborious part of the process since constant stirring is required and cook will bear the horrendous heat radiating from the huge furnace specially built three feet below the ground which is being fueled by dried sugarcane peelings or barks. When the sugarcane juice turned sticky, the mixture will be transferred to another pot to cool but the stirring will continue until the muscovado crystals are in powder form. Then it is air cooled and strained before packing it in the desired packaging.
Maricel has also invested in a clean storage area where she stores the sacks filled of muscovado. While she works in the milling facility, she wore a hairnet, apron and boots which were earlier provided by the DA regional office.
Maricel buys mature sugarcane from the farmers in Balaba and other nearby barangays. Processing is on a weekly basis and her products are brought to Batangas and Laguna. Their biggest order so far was one ton of muscovado sugar which they processed in 4 weeks.
Other topics discussed during the two day training were cultural practices for sugarcane production discussed by Engr. Salvador B. Ocampo and Engr. Maria Teresa M. Caballero of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA); Updates on the Packaging of the Processed Muscovado given by Roy Magdaraog (Lovella P. Guarin / photos by Eduardo D. Collantes, Jr.