CMU to offer sugar farm technician course vs. child labor

MUSUAN, Maramag, Bukidnon  -  The Central
Mindanao University will be offering a sugarcane technician course by
June 2012 to help boost the fight against child labor in the sugar
industry, which is its biggest employer in the province.

Dr. Luz Soriano, dean of the CMU College of Agriculture, presented to
the sugarcane industry of Bukidnon Tuesday the proposed curriculum for
the proposed Associate in Sugarcane Production and Management Course,
on the second to the last stage before the university approves it.

Based on the description of the course, ASPM will expose students to
the technical, social and economic aspects of sugarcane production and
management based on actual demonstrations in the field along with
other requirements in the 39-unit course.

The course will be finished in four semesters and one summer.

Soriano said applicants to the non-degree course should be preferably
sons and daughters of sugarcane workers. She said the International
Labor Organization – IPEC (International Programme for the Elimination
of Child Labor) has asked the university to create the course as part
of the education intervention for working children with support from
the Sugar Industry Foundation, Inc. (SIFI).

Bukidnon is one of four provinces in the country where ILO is
implementing the IPEC.

CMU cited in the rationale of the course that child labor is one of
the social problems plaguing the Philippine society. The Philippine
government, it added, demonstrated its commitment to eliminate child
labor by developing the Philippine Program against Child Labor
(PPACL).

The program aimed to reduce child labor by 75 percent in 2015. To
address the target, Republic Act 9231 was passed in 2003. The law
defined child labor and outlined the forms of child labor; set the
conditions for employment of those below and above the minimum age of
15 years old and set penal provisions against violations, CMU cited in
its briefing paper on the course.

“One sector that has always been part of the priority focus of
programs designed to eradicate child labor is the sugar plantation,”
CMU added in the document.

Accordingly, the most recent data from the National Statistics Office
showed that almost half of the cities and municipalities in Bukidnon
have a poverty incidence of more than 50 percent, with two
municipalities registering the highest rate at more than 71 percent.

“Sugar farming has not necessarily brought progress to some
communities, including the many families and workers that rely on it
for income,” it added.

CMU added that major sugar-producing towns in the province showed
poverty incidence within the range of 26 to 50 percent.

According to the briefer, the Child Labor Committee of Bukidnon
together with the other sugar industry stakeholders believe that one
of the factors hampering the growth of the industry is the lack of
management and technical skills in the current workforce. Also, the
CMU briefer cited that many sugar planters are not skilled in farm
management and are less receptive to adopting new farm technologies.

“These issues contribute to low productivity and a host of other
undesirable side effects, foremost of which is child labor,” they
added.

The agriculture sector, specifically sugar and corn, are the top
employers of child labor in the province, according to baseline survey
commissioned for the International Programme on the Elimination of
Child Labor (IPEC), a program funded by the ILO.

About 70 percent of the children said that they work in exploitative
conditions because they need to support their family.

Soriano said one of the innovative proposals to address the problem is
the development of a curriculum on sugar farm management.

Industry leaders present in the consultation welcomed the course and
vowed to follow a guideline in selecting workers from their farms to
be sent to the program for scholarship with the help of SIFI.

The program is set to accommodate 25 students, initially, in June.

One of the issues raised in the consultation, however, was CMU’s rule
that the units earned by students will not be eligible for a degree in
agriculture. Soriano, however, vowed to raise to the university’s
academic council the suggestions about the new course.

One sugar industry representative also raised the question on how much
should the graduate of the course earn upon employment. But it was
agreed that it will be dependent on skills.

The course will eventually be opened to other enrollees aside from
children of sugar workers around Mindanao. SIFI announced that the
course will only be offered in CMU. (Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon News)