Kolum ni Edward B. Antonio
Tobacco is life for the Ilocanos.
Tobacco is the lifeblood of many of them.
Tobacco is also the lifeblood of RA 7171 funds for without tobacco, there will be no fund or there will only be limited funds to spend for farm to market roads, farm equipment and cooperatives, new markets and other projects to improve the lives of the people particularly those from tobacco-producing provinces.
One Ilocos Sur mayor was so envious of the RA 7171 share of tobacco-producing towns that he said they would try planting tobacco next season. He rules a town near the sea where the National Tobacco Administration considers the land “salty.”
So beneficial is RA 7171 to Ilocos Region that people have become more aware of the impact, and the best impact is when you ride on your vehicle from your distant barangay to the national highway and you find it very comfortable to drive due to the concrete roads.
There are a thousand and one benefits from tobacco, fellas.
One farmer said he was able to build a 2-storey house, buy a car and send his kids to school (they are now professionals) because of tobacco farming.
Another said he was able to buy a chain or tricycles.
But through the decades where tobacco has been one of the major Ilocano industries in the country, very little education has been provided to our farmers on how to reforest our mountains and hills where most of the wood to fuel these tobacco curing barns come from.
Based on a study conducted by Tobacco Atlas, the clearing of land for cultivation and the large amounts of wood needed for curing tobacco cause massive deforestation at a rate of approximately 200,000 hectares per year, and the subsequent release of greenhouse gases contributes to climate change.
It also says that the tobacco industry damages the environment in many ways, and in ways that go far beyond the effects of the smoke that cigarettes put into the air when they are smoked. The harmful impact of the tobacco industry on deforestation, climate change, litter, and forest fires is enormous and growing.
Tobacco farming is a complicated process involving heavy use of pesticides, growth regulators, and chemical fertilizers. These can create environmental health problems, particularly in low- and middle-income countries with lax regulatory standards. In addition, tobacco, more than other food and cash crops, depletes soil of nutrients, including nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. As a result, in many low- and middle-income regions of the world, new areas of woodlands are cleared every year for tobacco crops (as opposed to re-using plots) and for wood needed for curing tobacco leaves, leading to deforestation. This deforestation can contribute to climate change by removing trees that eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere.
In fact, in a forum, the DENR admitted it lacks the manpower to guard our forest against denudation. It has very little or no forest rangers at all in many districts. Forest denudation causes flashfloods and one of the biggest evidence was when Typhoon Feria devastated Ilocos Sur in July 2001 witnessing the flow of hundreds of logs carried by the Abra River down to the Quirino (Banaoang) Bridge which contributed to the destruction of one of its steel spans paralyzing transportation going north.
Our rivers are getting wider and wider, eating up the lands surrounding it. More and more landslides occur and there is scarcity of mountain spring water during summer time.
Our tobacco industry has indeed contributed massively to the progress of our country particularly in Region I but our farmers and the DENR must also take massive steps to protect our forests especially at these times when typhoons are getting stronger and flashfloods come more often to destroy human and animal lives.
It’s about time (is it too late?) for our tobacco farmers to also get involved in continuous tree planting, in guarding our forests, in selective cutting of trees and in getting proper education regarding the side effects of environmental destruction brought about by cutting of trees.
And yes, the charcoal-producing people in the hinterlands and mountain areas should also be involved.
But how about the illegal loggers particularly these construction companies who are constantly in need of lumber in building establishments and in their infra projects?
It takes a lot of effort to save our environment and it’s about time people give something in return to it.
We have felt the impact of RA 7171 to our lives, fellas, and we may not want to stop it from coming.
The Ilocano is already a twin to the tobacco industry, too.
But there are two sides of the coin and the impact from the other side might put to naught everything we have worked for.
And we have been warned.#