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‘Vegetables can’t replace tobacco’

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Farmers and lawmakers are not convinced that vegetable crops being pushed by proponents of a bill seeking to impose a single tax rate on tobacco and alcohol will give them as much income as when they plant tobacco.

Unlike tobacco, shifting to vegetable crops does not guarantee a high and stable income, ready market, and adequate production assistance, lawmakers said.

They said with no alternative livelihood guaranteeing growers a steady income, farmers in tobacco-growing provinces stand to be the worst affected by the passage the proposed measure.  

Lakas-Kampi-CMD Rep. Milagros Magsaysay of Zambales expressed dismay that none of the invited resource persons during a hearing of the committee on ways and means, especially from the government, offered a real alternative solution to the problem that awaits tobacco farmers who will be adversely affected with the proposed single and high taxes contained in House Bill 5727.

According to Magsaysay, the “bahay-kubo” vegetable crops being pushed as alternative crops to tobacco do not have competitive prices based on the latest report from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics of the Department of Agriculture from 2000 to 2007, and 2008 to 2011.

“Palay and corn cannot compete with tobacco, neither can tomato or onion because their farm-gate prices as of 2011 was P66.89 for tobacco. Palay was P15.24, corn P12.56, tomato P13.57, and onion P36.99. So how can we convince these farmers to go to another crop if its farm-gate price is lower than that of tobacco?” Magsaysay said.

She added that even if they say garlic can be an option because it yields a higher price, the problem is when there is so much supply of garlic in the country, it will push the prices of the crop down.

Rep. Eric Singson Jr. said it is not easy to tell farmers to shift to alternative crops because the climate and land in Ilocos Sur are perfect for tobacco.

Singson sought a careful study of the proposed shift to alternative crops.  “Since you are recommending these economic crops, fruitful crops as you call them, why don’t we do a study first in the tobacco-producing regions?”

“We have a saying in the province, ‘Diak kita, diak mamati.’ [If I don’t see, I don’t believe.] For the farmers, it’s very simple: If we don’t earn anything, we don’t believe it.  ‘Yung tobacco industry sa Ilocos ang naging rason kung bakit naging first-class province ang Ilocos Sur.  All the people from Ilocos Sur will always prefer planting tobacco as their form of livelihood instead of other crops,” Singson said.

Rep. Randolph Ting said farmers are not shifting to other crops because they don’t believe they will be earning much. 

Citing a report of the National Tobacco Administration (NTA), he said “the net income for the return of investment (ROI) is about 138.11 percent up to 117 percent so we will range from 117.46 percent to 253.42 percent.”

Ernesto Calindas, representative of the National Federation of Tobacco Farmers Association and Cooperative Inc., said they had tried planting the so-called alternative crops, and it is clear, based on their experience, that tobacco farmers are not prepared to shift to these crops.

Calindas said they would always go back to tobacco farming because of the good income it gives.

He also cited the ready assistance provided by the NTA, starting with the tie-up with buyers, up to planting, harvesting, tobacco classification and selling.

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