Campaign to increase tobacco production gains ground in Ilocos Sur (First of two parts)

Tobacco farmer (photo by Eden A. Alviar)

VIGAN CITY — To save the tobacco industry and the share they receive from the collected excise tax from tobacco products, the provincial and municipal governments of Ilocos Sur campaigned with the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) to convince farmers to return or try planting the crop.

With the NTA’s “Balik Tobacco Program” and subsidies provided by LGUs, the campaign to reinvigorate tobacco production in the province seems to be gaining ground, according to the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist (OPAG).

Based on the record provided by Provincial Agriculturist Oscar Tobia, before, Vigan City and the adjacent towns of Caoayan, San Vicente, Sta. Catalina, San Ildefonso, and Bantay do not have areas planted with tobacco.

For this season, 172 out of the 5,013 farmers in the First Congressional District are from Metro Vigan. The total number of tobacco farmers in the district increased from the 3,299 individuals recorded by NTA Vigan Branch during the 2018-2019 tobacco season.

Meanwhile, of the 34 local governments, Santa is the lone municipality that is not planting the crop.

However, Tobia noted that the number of tobacco farmers is continuously changing depending on the price and opportunities provided by agribusiness corporations and local governments.

“Ti maysa a makitkita a gapu ket adda ngamin optionda kaspangarigan for the past years ket mayat ti presio ti mais tapos adda latta met diay support ti probinsia. Kasi ti farmers once saan mapagustoan diay mayat a presio ti commodityda tapos adda makitada a mayat nga offer alaenda nga alaen (One factor that I can see is farmers have options for example for the past years the price of corn is good, and they still receive support from the province. Once farmers are not given the proper price of their commodity and see a better offer, they would take it),” he said.

Subsidy and incentives

Meanwhile, Tobia is also hopeful that the support and incentives provided by the LGUs could bring back the enthusiasm of farmers to plant tobacco despite the low price of their harvest.

“Ti main ngamin [problema] is nababa diay presio aglalo diay naaramid a tripartite ket bassit ti increase isunga tapno makabawi ti farmers maikkanda ti subsidy tapno uray a saan a gumaraw ti presio ket bumababa diay cost of productionda. No agresponse ti mayat a counterpart dagiti munisipio, dakdakkel pay koma ti ma-save ti mannalon (The main problem is the meager increase of price during the tripartite so we are giving this subsidy to the farmers to lower their cost of production so they can still earn despite the low price. If the municipalities respond with a good counterpart, then they will have bigger savings),”

This year, the province increased the number of basal fertilizers (10-18-24) provided per hectare to reduce the production expenses of farmers. Farmers cultivating Virginia (neutral) and Burley would receive four 50-kilogram bags and six bags for those plating the improved flavor variety.

“Ngem daytoy ket agkurang a iti requirementna ta kaspangarigan diay Virginia a neutral ti kasapulan na per hectare ket 8 bags (But this number is not enough to cover the required amount, for example, the Virginia neutral requires 8 bags),” he admitted.

The provincial agriculturist said they based the number of fertilizers from the recommended planting requirements by Universal Leaf Philippines, Incorporated (ULPI).

According to Tobia, the province urged town officials to provide the other requirements.

“Kayat ngamin ti probinsia nga i-counterpart ti munisipio, tapno partnership between the province ken munisipio kasi adda met diay RA 7171 shareda (The province wants the municipalities to give their counterpart, so it can be a partnership between the province and the municipality since they also have their RA 7171 share),”
he said.

Tobia said that some local governments provide production incentives like Candon City, Narvacan, Magsingal, and San Emilio. According to him, farmers receive P3.00-5.00 every kilo of tobacco they harvest. The average yield for Virginia tobacco in the province is 2000 kilograms per hectare, with the incentive, farmers will have P6,000-P10,000 on top of their sales.

He added that while there are towns that provide substantial production support and incentives for tobacco farmers, some are still giving minimal support.

Overflowing funds for farmers

Excise tax collection from tobacco products and the shares received by local governments continue to increase. In 2018, the government’s excise tax collection reached P124.14 billion, higher by P33.25 billion that the previous year.

Tobacco-producing provinces receive 15 percent from the collected tobacco excise tax. RA 7171 governs the allotment and distribution of local government shares for Virginia tobacco while RA 8240 covers the Native and Burley. The law mandates that LGUs must spend their tobacco excise tax share on projects and programs that will promote the economic independence of farmers
planting the crop.

Since the Supreme Court ruling on “pork barrel” of legislators and their interventions in implementing the budget, the province receives 40 percent of the share while the remaining amount goes to the municipalities and cities for RA 7171. Meanwhile, half of the municipal and city share is divided equally while the other half is allotted according to the volume of tobacco produced.

Based on the Local Budget Memorandum No. 79 released by the budget department in June 2019, Ilocos Sur will receive P7.7 billion from the P12.9 billion excise tax of locally manufactured Virginia-cigarettes. The province will also get a share from the P2.9 billion collection for Burley and Native tobacco products.