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Tobacco farmers push for just pricing during tripartite confab

STA. LUCIA, ILOCOS SUR – Tobacco farmers from the Ilocos Region press for just price for their produce and favorable contract terms during the National Tobacco Tripartite Consultative Conference (NTTCC).

The NTTCC on September 6 and 7 at the National Tobacco Administration office in Quezon City is a biennial event attended by tobacco farmers, tobacco companies and trading centers where the minimum buying price of tobacco for the next 2 years is set.

Independent farmers’ group Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) sending a representative in the two-day conference is calling for a P128 per kilogram price without classification.

The group claims that P128 is the just price that can provide for the needs of the tobacco farmer and their family. They also want the classification system abolished because “tobacco companies and trading centers do not follow the classification set by the NTA,” said Zaldy Alfiler, secretary general of the farmers’ group.

Alfiler claimed that farmers produce are also subjected to downgrading especially during and after the Holy Week, while “(we) carry the burden of creating the produce but are always on the losing end of the deal.”   Despite doing all the hard work, it is the tobacco companies that rake in billions in profit, he lamented.

Accordingly, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC), which controls 83% of the cigarette market, earned P1.04 billion in 2015 and P2.59 billion in 2016 – a 149% increase.

This while tobacco farmers remain poor, Alfiler cited quoting the study by the Action for Economic Reforms and American Cancer Society noting 20% of the tobacco farmers in the country are recipients of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. This means that about 7,400 farmers are living below the poverty threshold.

The same study also found out that farmer’s real profit is only P16,227 ($324.54) for every hectare.

STOP Exploitation’s price monitor showed that the average price per kilogram of tobacco during the buying seasons is at P93 in 2015, P89 in 2016 and P83 in 2017. This is despite the reported payment of tobacco companies for imported unprocessed tobacco of P161 based on NTA data, Alfiler further cited.

NTA records also shows a P5,500 drop of net profit of tobacco farmers from 2014-2015 to 2015-2016 tobacco season.

During the tri-partite consultation, STOP Exploitation will also demand the NTTCC to be a venue to tackle all the issues that affect tobacco farmers and ask the NTA to review the contracts of companies and trading centers to ensure that farmers are not short-handed and taken advantage of.

Amidst the controversies regarding the use of tobacco excise taxes by local governments, the farmers’ group will also ask the NTA to ensure that the projects funded under the tobacco excise tax laws directly benefit the farmers.

Alfiler also vowed to push that representatives from farmer’s organizations be allowed to enter trading centers as per the agreement in the NTTCC in 2015. ACE ALEGRE / ABN