Peasant group urges unity as tobacco price negotiation nears


VIGAN CITY — The Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (Stop Exploitation) urged tobacco farmers to unite and assert for the significant increase in the floor price of their product for the upcoming National Tobacco Tripartite Consultative Conference (NTTCC).

In a statement written in Ilokano, the group said organizations of tobacco farmers should set aside “political belief and affiliation” and come up with a collective demand for the negotiations.

“Coming up with a single production cost and amount of increase to demand proved to be difficult in the past and even in the pre-tripartite workshop. What we can do is to come up with the minimum price per kilo that ensures substantial earning for all tobacco farmers,” explained Stop Exploitation chairperson Antonino Pugyao.

According to him, from 2003 up to the 2017 tripartite negotiations, the floor price of tobacco only increased by P3.00. Besides the meager rise in the buying price, NTA and the corporate sector were avoiding the resolution of other issues like unfair contract provisions.

The biennial tripartite conference sets the floor price of the three primary types of tobacco (Virginia, Burley, and Native) planted in the Philippines.  According to the National Tobacco Administration, the floor price serves as “safety net” for those who cultivate the plant, especially during “abnormal conditions.

On August 29, the NTA hosted a consultation and workshop at the Candon Branch of the agency. The activity is in preparation for the national tripartite meet scheduled on September 25-26. NTA officials facilitated the deliberation where farmers came out with a unified cost of production per tobacco type and sub-type. Selected farmer leaders will present the figures in the conference with cigarette manufacturers, tobacco dealers, and exporters.

In principle, the NTA formula assures tobacco farmers 25 percent return on investment from their produce. However, in the last two seasons after the previous tripartite, farmers experienced prices that provided ROI below the estimated figures of the agency.

JUST DEMAND. Farmers led by the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation protest inside the National Tobacco Administration Candon Branch for the agencies inutile action against downgrading and low price of tobacco leaves. File photo
Meeting halfway

Pugyao maintains that P128 is the just and fair price per kilo of Virginia tobacco.

“But we remain open to suggestions from other tobacco farmers’ organizations. We are also willing to meet them and agree on a fair price to negotiate, provided it is not lower than P100.00 per kilo,” he added.

According to him, the runaway inflation brought by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law (TRAIN Law) is another justification for a substantial increase. He noted that this should also strengthen their resolve and unity.

“Because of TRAIN, all prices of goods including farm supplies went up while the price of our products like tobacco remains low,” he added.

Last tripartite conference, his group came at odds with the National Federation of Tobacco Farmers Association and Cooperatives (NAFTAC).

Stop Exploitation accused former NAFTAC president Mario Cabasal and NTA Administrator Robert Seares colluding with tobacco companies after “arbitrarily proceeding with the negotiation without informing all farmers’ representatives.” The group compared the act to “throwing farmers into the lion’s den to be devoured.”

In the last five years, 56 percent of harvested tobacco in the Philippines is the Virginia-type, of which the Ilocos region accounts for more than 90 percent of the production. Cigarette manufacturing giant Philip Morris International uses this type of tobacco in combination with burley and oriental to produce (blended cigarettes) and for pure Virginia cigarettes.

Declining production

With billions of pesos available for tobacco-producing provinces and municipalities, local government units’ aggressively promote the cultivation of the crop. Officials enticed farmers by providing production assistance and incentives.

Despite the joint effort of the LGUs and NTA, local production continues to decline. According to NTA data, the area planted with tobacco decreased by 30% from 31,214 hectares in 2017 to 22,058 hectares in 2019.

The agency attributed the decrease from the impact of additional taxes imposed and the nationwide smoking ban. However, Stop Exploitation disagrees with this.

“The minimal income and bankruptcy from the dismal price of our product and minimal assistance we received are the reasons why farmers are shifting to other crops,” said Pugyao.

He said that many of their members are now cultivating corn and peanut from October to April, creating a steady decline of farms allotted for tobacco production.

But NTA remains positive and plans to focus on the export of tobacco leaf to cushion the declining local demand. The agency also looks at the farmers’ shift to other crops as temporary because of lack of production support, small markets, and unstable prices for other plants. #