Part 2a

Philippine Crops in the 19th century


Among the varied productions of the Philippines, for many reasons, none is so deserving of attention as cotton.

Its whiteness and find staple give to it such a superiority over that of the rest of Asia, and possibly of the world, that the Chinese anxiously seek it, in order pereferably to employ it in their most perfect textures, and purchase it thirty per cent dearer than the best from British India.

Notwithstanding this extraordinary allurement, the vicinity of a good market, and the positive certainty that, however great the exportation, the growth can never equal the consumption and immense [360]demand for this article, it has, nevertheless, hitherto been found impossible to extend and improve its cultivation, in such a way as to render it a staple commodity of the country. Owing to this lamentable neglect, is it, that the annual exportation does not exceed 5,000 “arrobas” (125,000 lbs.) whereas the British import into China at the annual rate of 100,000 bales, or 1,200,000 “arrobas,” produced in their establishments at Bombay and Calcutta, and which, sold at the medium price of fifteen “taels,” for one hundred thirty pounds, yield the net amount of $4,800,000.

This lack of attention to so important a branch of agriculture is the more to be regretted, as the Islands abound in situations peculiarly adapted for the cultivation of cotton, and the accidental failure of the crops in some provinces, might easily be made up by their success in others. The culture of this plant is besides extremely easy, as it requires no other labor than clearing the grounds from brush-wood, and lightly turning up the earth with a plough, before the seeds are scattered, which being done, the planter leaves the crop to its own chance, and in five months gathers abundant fruit, if, at the time the bud opens, it is not burnt by the north winds, or rotted with unseasonable showers.

Restricted cultivation.The provinces of Ilocos and Batangas are the only ones in which the cultivation of cotton is pursued with any degree of zeal and care, and it greatly tends to enrich the inhabitants. This successful example has not, however, hitherto excited emulation in those of the other provinces; and thus the only production of the Philippine Islands, of which the excellence and superior demand in trade are as well known as its culture is easy, owing to strange fatality and causes which will be hereafter noticed, is left almost in a neglected state, or, at most, confined to the narrow limits of local consumption.


Pangasinan, Pampanga, Bataan, La Laguna, Tayabas and Camarines produce indigo of various classes, and, although its preparation or the extraction of the dye, is in most of the above provinces still performed in an equally imperfect manner, several small improvements have recently been made, which have bettered the quality, more particularly in La Laguna, the only district in which attempts have been made to imitate the process used in Guatemala, as well with regard to the construction and number of vats necessary, as the precipitation of the coloring particles—detached from the plant by the agitation of the water. In the other places, the whole of the operations are performed in a single vat, and the indigo obtained is not unfrequently impregnated with lime and other extraneous substances.

Increasing culture.Whatever may have been the causes of this evident backwardness, from the period of the establishment of the Philippine Company in these Islands, and in consequence of the exertions of some of the directors to promote the cultivation of indigo, at that time very little known, the natives have slowly, though gradually, been reconciled to it; and discovering it to be one of the most advantageous branches of industry, although accompanied with some labor and exposed to the influence of droughts and excessive heats, as well as to the risks attendant on the extraordinary anticipation of the rainy seasons, have of late years paid more attention to it.

The quintal of indigo of the first class costs the planter from $35 to $40 at most; and in the market of Manila it has been sold from $60 to $130, according to the quality and the greater or lesser demand for the article at the season. As, however, everything in this colony moves within a small circle, it is not possible to obtain large quantities for exportation; not only because of the risk in advancing the Indian sums of money on account of his crop, but also owing to the annual surplus seldom exceeding from two to two thousand five hundred distributed in many hands, and collected by numerous agents, equally interested in making up their return-cargoes.


The cultivation of the sugar-cane is more or less extended to all the provinces of these Islands, owing to its consumption among the natives being both great and general; but those of La Pampanga and Pangasinan are more particularly devoted to it. These two provinces alone annually produce about 550,000 arrobas (13,750,000 lbs.) of which one-third is usually exported in Chinese and other foreign vessels. In extraordinary seasons, the amount exported greatly exceeds the quantity above stated, as, for example, happened in the monsoon of 1796, when the planters came down to the port of Manila, and by contract exported upwards of 9 million weight, of the first and second qualities. The price of this article has experienced many variations of late years; but the medium may be estimated at $6 for one hundred twenty-five pounds of the first quality, and $5 for the second.

Method of Sugar Manufacture

The superior quality of the sugar of the Philippines is acknowledged, when compared to that produced in the Island of Java, China, or Bengal; notwithstanding in the latter countries it may naturally be concluded that greater pains and care are bestowed on its manufacture. The pressure of the cane in the Philippine Islands is performed by means of two coarse stone cylinders, placed on the ground, and moved in opposite directions by the slow and [362]unequal pace of a “carabao,” a species of ox or buffalo, peculiar to this and other Asiatic countries. The juice is conveyed to an iron caldron, and in this the other operations of boiling, skimming and cleansing take place, till the crystallization or adhering of the sugar is completed. All these distinct parts of the process, in other colonies, are performed in four separate vessels, confided to different hands, and consequently experience a much greater degree of care and dexterity. After being properly clayed, the sugars acquire such a state of consistency that, when shipped in canvas bags, they become almost petrified in the course of the voyage, without moistening or purging, as I understand is the case with those of Bengal.


Among the useful objects to which the Patriotic Society of Manila (Amigos del Pais) directed their attention, from the very moment of their formation, the planting of mulberry trees seems to have met with peculiar encouragement. The society rightly judged that the naturalization of so valuable a commodity as silk in these Islands would materially increase the resources of the colony, and there was reason to hope that, besides local consumption, the growth might in time be so much extended as to supply the wants of New Spain, which are not less than 80,000 lbs., amounting to from $350,000 to $400,000, conveyed there in the galleon annually sent to the port of Acapulco, by the Manila merchants, which article they are now compelled to contract for in China.

Mulberry trees

The Society gave the first impulse to this laudable project, and then the governor of the Islands, Don José Basco, anxious to realize it, with this view sent Colonel Charles Conely on a special commission to the province of Camarines. This zealous officer and district magistrate, in the years 1786–1788 caused 4,485,782 mulberry trees to be planted in the thirty districts under his jurisdiction; and incalculable are the happy results which would have attended a plan so extensive, and commenced with so much vigor, if it could have been continued with the same zeal by his successor, and not at once destroyed, through a mistaken notion of humanity, with which, soon after the departure of Governor Basco, they proceeded to exonerate the Filipinos from all agricultural labor that was not free and spontaneous, in conformity, as was then alleged, to the general spirit of our Indian legislation. As it was natural to expect, the total abandonment of this valuable branch followed a measure so fatal, and notwithstanding the efforts subsequently made by the Royal Company, in order to obtain its restoration, as well in Camarines [363]as the Province of Tondo, all their exertions were in vain, though it must be allowed that at the time several untoward circumstances contributed to thwart their anxious wishes. Notwithstanding this failure, the project, far from being deemed impracticable, would beyond all doubt succeed, and, under powerful patronage, completely answer the well-founded hopes of its original conceivers and promoters. The natives themselves would soon be convinced of the advantages to be derived from the possession of an article, in so many ways applicable to their own fine textures, and besides the variety of districts in the Islands, proved to be suitable to the cultivation of this interesting tree, it is a known fact that many of the old mulberry groves are still in existence.


The Bisayas, Cagayan, and many other provinces, produce wax in considerable abundance, which the Indians collect from the natural hives formed in the cavities of the trees, and it is also brought down by the infidel natives from the mountains to the neighboring towns. The quality certainly is not the best, and notwithstanding attempts have been made to cleanse it from the extraneous particles with which it is mixed, it always leaves a considerable sediment on the lower part of the cakes, and never acquires an entire whiteness. Its consumption is great, especially in the capital, and after supplying the wants of the country, an annual surplus of from six hundred to eight hundred quintals is appropriated for exportation.

Neglected market

This certainly might be converted into an article of extreme importance, especially for the kingdom of Peru, which in peaceable times receives its supplies from Spain, and even from the Island of Cuba; but for this purpose it would be necessary to adopt the plan recommended by the enlightened zeal of the Patriotic Society and previously encourage the establishment of artificial hives and the plantation of aromatic and flowering shrubs, which so easily attract and secure the permanency of the roving swarms, always ready to undertake fresh labors. This, as well as many other points, has hitherto been entirely overlooked.

Black pepper

The production is cultivated in the Provinces of Tayabas, Batangas, and La Laguna, but in such small quantities, that, notwithstanding the powerful allurements of all kinds constantly held out by the Royal Company during the long period of twenty years, their agents have never been able to collect in more than about 64,000 lbs. annually. After every encouragement, the most that has been attained with the natives, is confined to their planting in some districts fifty to one hundred pepper-vines round their huts, [364]which they cultivate in the same way as they would plots of flowers, but without any other labor than supporting the plant with a proportioned stake, clearing the ground from weeds, and attending to daily irrigation.

A possibility.

This article therefore scarcely deserves a place amongst the flourishing branches of agriculture, at least till it has been raised from its present depressed state, and the grounds laid out in regular and productive pepper-groves. Till this is done, to a corresponding extent, it must also be excluded from the number of productions furnished by these Islands to commerce and exportation; more particularly if we consider that, notwithstanding the great fragrance of the grain, as well as its general superiority over the rest of Asia, so great a difference exists in the actual price, that this can never be compensated by its greater request in the markets of Europe, and much less enable it to compete with that of the British and Dutch, till its abundance has considerably lowered its primitive value.

Not popular.

Finally, although an infinity of grounds are to be found adapted to the rapid propagation of pepper-vines, as may easily be inferred from the analogy and proximity of the Philippine Islands to the others of this same archipelago, so well known for their growth of spices, it must be confessed that it is a species of culture by no means popular among the Philippine natives, and it would be almost requiring too much from their inconstancy of character, to wish them to dedicate their lands and time to the raising of a production which, besides demanding considerable care, is greatly exposed to injury, and even liable to be destroyed by the severity of the storms, which frequently mark the seasons.

With difficulty would they be induced to wait five years before they were able to gather the uncertain fruits of their labor and patience. If, therefore, it should ever be deemed a measure of policy to encourage the growth of black pepper, it will be necessary for the government to order the commons belonging to each town, and adapted to this species of plantation, to be appropriated to this use, by imposing on the inhabitants the obligation of taking care of them, and drawing from the respective coffers of each community the necessary funds for the payment of the laborers, and the other expenses of cultivation. If this cannot be done, it will be necessary to wait till the general condition of the country is improved, when through the spirit of emulation, and the enterprises of the planters being duly patronized and supported, present difficulties may be overcome, and the progressive results of future attempts will be then found to combine the interests of individuals with the general welfare of the colony.


So choice is the quality of the coffee produced in the Island of Luzon, especially in the districts of Indang and Silang, in the province of Cavite, that if it is not equal to that of Mocha, I at least consider it on parallel with the coffee of Bourbon; but, as the consumption and cultivation are extremely limited, it cannot with any propriety be yet numbered among the articles contributing to the export-trade.

Cocoa.Cocoa is something more attended to, in consequence of the use of chocolate being greatly extended among the natives of easy circumstances. That of the Island of Cebu, is esteemed superior to the cocoa of Guayaquil, and possibly it is not excelled by that of Soconusco. As, however, the quantity raised does not suffice for the local consumption, Guayaquil cocoa meets a ready sale, and is generally brought in return-cargo by the ships coming from Acapulco, and those belonging to the Philippine company dispatched from Callao, the shipping port of Lima.

The cultivation of these two articles in the Philippines is on the same footing as that of pepper, which, as above stated, is rather an object of luxury and recreation than one of speculation among the Filipinos. The observations and rules pointed out in the preceding article, are, in a general sense, applicable to both these branches of industry.


Cinnamon groves, or trees of wild cinnamon, are to be found in every province.

In Mindanao, a Dutchman, some years ago, was employed by the government to examine the forests and make experiments to discover the Ceylon version of cinnamon. But this laudable attempt totally failed either because of:

  • a failure in the discovery or
  • the lack of skill in preparing, or stripping off the bark.

The only advantage gained was the extraction from the bark and more tender parts of the branches of the tree, an oil or essence of cinnamon, extremely vigorous and aromatic.

About the same time, a land-owner named Salgado, created a large plantation of the same cinnamon species in Laguna.

  • He succeeded in seeing upwards of 1 million cinnamon trees thrive and grow to a considerable size.
  • But in the end, he was reluctantly compelled to desist from his enterprise, by the same reasons which led to the failure of Mindanao.

Lack of experienced cultivators.

These facts are of sufficient authority for our placing the cinnamon tree among the indigenous productions of the Philippine Islands and considering their general excellence above those of the same nature in the rest of Asia, it may reasonably be concluded that, without the tree being identically the same, the cinnamon with which it is clothed will be found finer than that yielded by the native plant of the Island of Ceylon, and this circumstance, consequently, holds out a hope that, in the course of time, it may become an article of traffic, as estimable as it would be new.

In order, however, that this flattering prospect may be realized, it will be requisite for the government to procure some families, or persons from the above island, acquainted with the process of stripping off the bark and preparing the cinnamon, by dexterously offering allurements, corresponding to the importance of the service, which, although in itself it may probably be an extremely simple operation, as long as it is unknown, will be an insuperable obstacle to the propagation of so important an agricultural pursuit.


Two species of nutmeg are known here:

  1. In shape resembling a pigeon’s egg
  2. A perfectly spherical one

But both are wild and little aromatic, and consequently held in no great esteem.


Rice is the bread and principal aliment of these natives, for which reason, although its cultivation is among the most disagreeable departments of husbandry, they devote themselves to it with astonishing constancy and alacrity, so as to form a complete contrast with their characteristic indifference in most other respects.

This must, however, be taken as a certain indication of the possibility of training them up to useful labor; whenever they can be led on in a proper manner.

The earth corresponds with surprising fertility to the labors of the Filipino, rewarding him, in the good seasons, with ninety, and even as high as 100%. a fact I have fully ascertained and of which I besides possess undoubted proofs, obtained from the parish-curates of La Pampanga.

As, however, the provinces are frequently visited with dreadful hurricanes (called in the country, baguios), desolated by locusts, and exposed to the effects of the great irregularities of nature, which, in these climes, often acts in extreme, the crops of this grain are precarious, or at least, no reliance can be placed on a certain surplus allowing an annual exportation to China. On this account, rice cannot be placed in the list of those articles which give support to the external trade.


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