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Women farmers still loyalists to tobacco

By LINA SAGARAL REYES
Special Correspondent . 

GITAGUM, Misamis Oriental – Here, in this tobacco-farming town, 43 kilometers west of Cagayan de Oro City, decisions on matters of consequence such as priority expenses for farm and household are judgment calls of women alone, though major decisions are mostly reached in tandem with their husbands.

LoAn Legaspi, 34,  and Elena Mejos, 60, who both co-manage their own small family tobacco farms with their husbands, are always making choices, and often they decide on their own quickly, or consult their husbands.

But while women here, like Legaspi and Mejos, are already headstrong in decision-making, most would still choose not to replace tobacco as major farm crop yet, shows a study on women’s empowerment among 47 women farmers in three towns, including Gitagum, in the tobacco-farming belt in Misamis Oriental in May and June 2017.

The province’s native tobacco farmlands are spread across the 61-kilometer sprawl of the western coastal towns of Opol, Laguindingan, Gitagum, Libertad, Initao and the city of El Salvador. More than 97 percent of farmers and 85 percent of their production areas are located in the string of  Alubijid, Laguindingan and Gitagum towns, where the interviews were undertaken.

For decades, the dark native variety called batek has been a major non-food crop in this largely agricultural town of 16,000, where around 727 small-scale farmers grow the leafy shrubs in all of the town’s 11 barangays in 2017, records from the Laguindingan field office of the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) show. These growers head more than a third of the town’s 3,578 households.

Of these farmers, 309 or about 42.5 percent were women. This accounted for the highest per town, male-female ratio among the 1,717 farmers in the province’s six batek-cultivating towns as of 2017.  It is 21 percent in Alubijid, and 19 percent in Laguindingan. Globally, however,  women make up 60 to 70 percent of the world’s tobacco farming workforce, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Most of the town’s farmers also plant corn (1,064 hectares), coconuts (1,334 hectares), bananas, mango and sineguelas (Spanish plum). Tobacco is grown in about 140-200 hectares between May and September every year.

Empowerment

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, women’s participation in decision making is a key determinant of empowerment. The small-scale study, adapted from the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) 2013, asked respondents about their roles in making decisions on expenses for and earnings from their tobacco farms, on their own separate earnings and husband’s earnings in jobs other than farming, and  major family expenditures and purchases for daily household needs.

The respondents were also asked who make decisions to get a loan, grow other crops together with tobacco and an alternative crop other than tobacco, and about their own personal health. 

Like the NDHS 2013 results for Northern Mindanao, majority of the respondents (66 percent) share decision-making with their husbands over expenses for the farm and other major purchases and 22 percent decide alone, or a total of 88.8 percent but daily expenses in both farm and household as well as the crop of choice for the second cropping season are their niches (92 percent and 72 percent, respectively). Overall, 84 percent of the women are empowered. Yet, despite their earned power in their household, none are willing yet to shift away from tobacco, for now. 

“The number of women farmers could even be higher, says Maria Merceditas Ayco, NTA tobacco production and regulation officer in Mindanao, who updates its registry of mostly small-scale tobacco cultivators bi-annually.

“Because farming is often a husband-and-wife partnership, there should be an almost equal number of farmers of both genders, and we encouraged everyone to register, woman or man; but still fewer women have come to register in other towns,” Ayco observes.

“In Gitagum, many women have been in the fore even beyond the farm. They attend meetings and are taking leadership roles,” she adds.

Ayco said that she has noted that Gitagum women farmers are active in cooperatives, waterworks organizations and barangay councils.

(This series is an updated version of an article published previously in another paper. This was produced under the “Mga Nagbababang Kuwento: Reporting on Tobacco and Sin Tax Media Training and Fellowship Program” by Probe Media Foundation with the support of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.)

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