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Roxas Holdings pushing for mechanization amid aging sugar labor force

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sugarcane
ROXAS HOLDINGS

INTEGRATED sugar and bioethanol producer Roxas Holdings, Inc. (RHI) said it is pushing for further mechanization on sugarcane farms amid fears of an aging and dwindling work force in agriculture.

RHI President and CEO Hubert D. Tubio said that while RHI currently does not have any problem with its work force, labor will need to be gradually displaced with machines to increase productivity and adapt to the changes in the industry.

“On the side of the farmers, nobody wants to remain on the farm. The farmers who used to work in the farms don’t want their children to work like them. That means, that the work force is aging,” he added.

“It’s high time, as far as the planters are concerned, [that] they need to mechanize. The farmers in our milling districts now have loaders and tractors for harvesting cane.”

Last month, Sugar Regulatory Administration Chief Hermenegildo R. Serafica told reporters that the regulator expects agricultural workers to shift to construction due to attractive wages, driven higher by the government’s aggressive building program.

Mr. Tubio said that RHI is currently trying to support greater mechanization, but only 20% of its sugarcane suppliers can afford to invest in loaders and tractors. As of 2017, the company has provided 24 loaders to suppliers.

The remaining 80% are not sufficiently equipped, with their small plots of land not justifying the investment in machinery.

“What we’re trying to do is to make arrangements with government agencies to address this. We try to make them receptive to the idea of supporting these [mechanization efforts],” he added.

“If we can push with the acceleration of the mechanization process, this can be helpful to us. we’re starting to reduce the farm workers, the catalyst to push us to that direction (mechanization) as we lack workers. We have no choice but to mechanize the farms,” Mr. Tubio said.

RHI Chairman Pedro E. Roxas said that around 20% of the harvest is automatically lost by the time it gets to the mill due to the inefficiencies of manual labor. — Anna Gabriela A. Mogato