Tobacco farmers seek gov’t support; crop diversification pushed

Tobacco farmers seek gov’t support; crop diversification pushed

MANILA — Tobacco farmers and cooperatives are seeking a range of government assistance, including financing, to help them become competitive under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) integration scheme.

Mario Cabasal, president of the National Federation of Tobacco Farmers and Cooperatives, Inc., said the adoption of new technologies and the provision of irrigation are also important.

“Most farmers are asking government support amid greater competition from other countries producing tobacco. These will enable us to compete in the world market,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a forum on tobacco farming on Thursday.

Cabasal also proposed that Congress or Senate exclude tobacco in the list of agricultural products for liberalization under the AEC.

The government is encouraging tobacco farmers to diversify and plant alternative crops in line with the Philippines’ commitment to its own tobacco control legislation, Republic Act 9211, and Article 17 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WTO FCTC).

The results of a joint research released by the Action for Economic Reforms and American Cancer Society suggested that tobacco farming, which is considered as the most labor-intensive crop, is not a lucrative endeavor for most smallholder farmers.

“However, the structure of agricultural markets, especially the limited access to capital and markets, provides little incentive to farmers to shift out of tobacco,” it noted.

It also found that there is no direct evidence that the sin tax has affected tobacco farmers.

The report proposed that a successful long-term Philippine economic development strategy should include diversification of the agricultural sector and improved linkages with manufacturing and industry.

It said the country needs to develop markets, especially improved supply chains, for other viable products.

“In particular, access to credit fundamentally shapes what opportunities are available to farmers. Similarly, improved markets for other agricultural goods will provide incentive for farmers to try alternative crops,” the report added.

Dr. Jeffrey Drope, Vice President for Economic and Health Policy Research at the American Cancer Society, said creating value-added opportunities for farmers is also important.

“If you are growing crops like soybeans, peanuts, think about how could you have some value-added manufacturing, for example, using those products so that the returns to the farmers are bigger, better,” he said. Leslie Venzon/PNA/