MISAMIS ORIENTAL, Philippines — It’s deep golden color when fully “cured” or “cooked” conveys the value Virginia tobacco farmers here are giving this cash-crop.
Small-scale farmers in Claveria town located 30 kilometers east-north-east of the provincial capital city of Cagayan de Oro are favoring flue-cured tobacco over other crops because they are earning a weekly income from the sale of tobacco leaf while other crops take months before they can be sold.
Virginia tobacco is fast becoming Claveria farmers’ choice cash crop because tobacco here can be grown and harvested year-round and generate a very good income starting in the second month since transplantation continues every week until the leaf’s fourth month when the tobacco plant is uprooted to give way to another cash crop like corn or cassava or beans.
Planting Virginia tobacco was just an additional income-generating activity to farmers here when it was introduced by Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Company Inc (PMFTC) in 2012. But when the company began commercial operation of its first “continuous production operations” in the fourth quarter of last year, flue-cured tobacco leapfrogged as the main crop, with the number of farmers cultivating tobacco increasing from 113 to 670, and the area covered expanding from 58.27 hectares in 2012-2013 to 1,340 hectares as of this month.
“Tobacco planting has become a cash crop for the residents as they gained better income allowing them to send their children to college and improve their lives. It also provided employment opportunities to the community and nearby municipalities,” said Didet Danguilan, PMFTC communications officer.
For farmers here, tobacco farming is much better than growing other crops because they are assured of a market at a fixed contracted price, farms inputs assistance, free transportation for the leaf harvest to the buying station, full technical assistance from planting to growing and harvesting, and training on good agricultural practices.
“Tobacco is the only cash crop that contributes an enormous sum in the family income of the farmers,” the National Tobacco Administration (NTA), said.
Lawyer Wilma Eisma, PMFTC public affairs and contributions manager, said farmers here see flue-cured tobacco farming as a money-making machine so much so that they are now scouting for more land to rent or lease for production.
“Farmers here, when they saw that tobacco farming earns them a very good income, they look for other lands to plant tobacco like this one woman farmer who now rent/lease other farms for tobacco farming,” she said.
Like farming gold
Paulino Soriano Jr., 60, said he likes farming tobacco leaf because production costs are lower, resulting in higher income than what he could have earned from other crops. Aside from tobacco, Soriano is also cultivating corn, income from a hectare of which runs to P50,000 but expenses for which reach P25,000.
He said his income from tobacco is way higher than from any other crop. “I spent P14,000 for farm inputs in my half-hectare land of tobacco plants. But my income from the sale of the tobacco leaf reached P60,000,” said one of the pioneer tobacco farmer here. “I was not able to generate this kind of income when I was still purely farming corn.”
Tobacco farmers start earning from their flue-cured leaf two months after transplantation. This is because “tobacco is like a multi-level building, you don’t harvest all at the same time, per stalk position,” said Eisma.
The only land-locked municipality in Misamis Oriental, Claveria is considered the “food basket” of the province as large tracts of land here are devoted to production of various kinds of vegetables, corn, coffee, rice, root crops and spices. Named in honor of Spanish Governor-General Don Narciso Claveria y Zaldua, the town also produces Mindanao silk through the facilities of the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
But tobacco farmers allayed the fears of many that food security will become an issue once tobacco takes over productive land. “PMFTC does not allow mono-cropping here. The company encouraged us to practice crop rotation. So I still plant corn and cassava after harvesting my tobacco leaf four months after transplanting them,” said 50-year-old Magdalena Sawitan.
Like Soriano, Sawitan said she started earning from her tobacco on the second month since transplanting them. She now earns an average of P1,000 per week. Because of this, she has expanded her tobacco plantation from a hectare to three hectares.
Crop rotation — or planting corn or other crops after harvesting the tobacco or vice versa — is mandatory for all tobacco farmers here as this practice is one of the many ways to avoid crop diseases. It also helps soil regeneration. Crop rotation ensures continuous soil productivity, said Danguilan.
“We don’t allow that they still plant tobacco after harvesting tobacco four months later because that is not sustainable. So we mandate that they plant something else, as long as it is not part of the solanaceae family. But some farmers insist on successive planting of tobacco. But since we don’t allow that, we created the Corn Support Program wherein PMFTC will give them initial capital for corn even though we don’t buy corn and then we will just deduct it from the proceeds of their sale of tobacco leaf,” Eisma said.
Another tobacco pioneer here, 56-year-old Nanay Minda said she understands why PMFTC does not allow successive planting of tobacco. However, she would prefer planting tobacco on her land than other cash crops if PMFTC allows it. “Who will not plant tobacco when you get at least P1,000 weekly from the sale of tobacco leaf?” she said.
Minda even likened tobacco farming to gold mining. “Like gold, tobacco farming is so precious for us farmers because we have a sure income even if our tobacco leaf is not that good.”
According to Ravi Lumunsad, PMFTC Claveria operations manager, there is no waste in tobacco farming as the company buys all the leaves. It buys overripe and immature leaves at P1.50 per kilo and ripe leaves for P4.97 per kilo. These are green leaves, unlike in Ilocos where the company buys cured tobacco leaf.
Under normal conditions here, Virginia tobacco farmers harvest from a hectare of land 18,100 kilos of 95 percent high-quality tobacco leaf. But in times of drought, they can only harvest from a hectare of land 10,000 kilos of 90 percent low-quality tobacco leaf.
“Even if they sell us immature or overripe leaf, we buy them. Somehow, somewhere along the process, these low quality tobacco leaves are still used in some other cigarette product we produce. So basically there is no waste in tobacco farming,” Lumunsad said.
By: Bong D. Fabe, InterAksyon.com