"Why farmers choose Virginia Tobacco?"
By Freddie Lazaro
The Star Northern Luzon


Why is it that farmers in Ilocos region still prefer Virginia tobacco as main cash crop after rice season?

Marcelo Abalos, at 59, smiles as he smells the aroma of the fresh and attractive flue - cured Virginia tobacco leaves coming from the 20 feet flu-curing barn with a size of 12’ by 14’ length and width, respectively.

Abalos or Mang Celong, a long time tobacco farmer from Barangay Cal-litong, Burgos, Ilocos Sur, is one of the 10, 670 farmers from Ilocos Sur recorded by the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) who engages in tobacco growing this tobacco season.

Manong Celong, who started farming at 15, expects a sufficient amount of money he will earn from the presently cured Virginia tobacco leaves to augment the allowance of his youngest child in college.

Despite the all - out advocacy on various sectors on the ill - effects on tobacco industry specifically on smoking, Manong Celong claimed that the Virginia tobacco is still the best cash crop for him to plant after the rice season. He preferred to grow Virginia tobacco rather than other high value crop considering it as the only crop that could give him an opportunity to earn higher income.

This season, he is expecting to earn an estimated gross income of P150, 000.00 in his one hectare tobacco farm after his eight - week period of harvesting starting last week of February this year. He had estimated gross expenses of P100, 000.00 to include the daily wages of his family members in tending services from planting to harvesting.

“I tried to plant yellow corn in a hectare of land that I had leased before to add my one hectare tobacco plantation, unfortunately I had earned a break-even income in corn growing due to its unstable price unlike the tobacco that had floor prices,” he said.

“Today, I sold my Class AA flue -cured Virginia tobacco into P71.00 a kilo which was P10 higher from its recently approved P61.00 floor price,” added Manong Marcelo, who was also a tobacco contract grower.

In his 44 years of continuous farming of tobacco, he disclosed that he never incurred any losses. His secret is to follow the appropriate cultural practices and technology in tobacco farming coupled with sufficient capital.

With his earning from tobacco farming, he sends his older child in exclusive schools to finish college degree. He was also able to repair his house and procured additional agricultural lands and farm machineries.

Similarly, Elpidio Argel, 55, a father of seven children and native of Barangay Labnig, San Juan, Ilocos Sur, claimed that Virginia tobacco still the best money - earning crop by the farmers in the province among the other alternative crops.

He disclosed that 70% on the expenses of his children in taking up education were from tobacco farming.

The four of his seven children were graduated in exclusive colleges in Ilocos region with degrees on commerce, criminology and education. One of his children is presently studying at Northwestern University in Laoag City and the other one is studying at Minor Seminary in Vigan City.

Reports from the NTA stated that tobacco industry continues to contribute an annual average of P25 billion in excise tax to the government.

The Virginia tobacco industry is the steady source of the RA 7171 tobacco excise tax fund pouring millions of peso funds for the infrastructure and livelihood projects for the four Virginia producing such as Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra and La Union. Ilocos Sur, which is the biggest producer of Virginia tobacco, owns the biggest share among the four provinces.

However, Manong Marcelo and Elpidio, a tobacco farmer since 1974, are both wary that tobacco industry might be a dying industry in the future if the government would not extend appropriate support assistance to the tobacco grower. They cited the all - out campaign against cigarette smoking and a problem on the continuous increase of tobacco farming inputs might threaten the farmers to shift tobacco farming into other crops.

But, NTA Administrator Carlitos S. Encarnacion allayed the fears of the farmers claiming that tobacco industry is “as strong and solid as ever” saying that the demand for tobacco leaf and tobacco products is increasing yearly by 2 percent globally and 3 percent locally.

He depended that the tobacco industry is very far from being a sunset industry despite the presence of anti-smoking law in the country.

This developed when NTA researchers found out the alternative uses of tobacco as its dusts and its pulps were efficient insecticide to kill snail in the fishponds and excellent material for paper manufacturing, respectively.

The tobacco dust had been tested as effective molluscicide in the 12 fishponds in Paombong, Bulacan using a total of 434 million kilograms. The said tobacco dust was eventually decomposed to produce “lablab -” a good food material for fishes.

The NTA official said that these proven alternative uses of tobacco will not only increase the demand of the tobacco but also to generate more jobs and income for the farmers.

To mitigate the environmental degradation caused by the tobacco industry, the tobacco agency intensified the “Backyard Energy Farm” program, a reforestation program by planting fast growing trees like gmelina and mahogany. A massive campaign on limiting the cutting of tress into its branches for tobacco curing had been realized.

The tobacco agency had already planted with trees a half hectare of forest land in Banayoyo, Ilocos Sur.

As to the tobacco financial assistance is concern, the Virginia tobacco producing provinces had extended soft production loans to tobacco growers.