CLAVERIA, Misamis Oriental: Less than eight months since the start of full commercial operations, the country’s biggest cigarette manufacturer, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp. (PMFTC), plans to ramp up tobacco production in its Mindanao facility over the next three years.
Ravi Lumunsad, operations manager of PMFTC’s Claveria Fresh Leaf Buying and Curing Facility, said they aim to achieve maximum capacity of four million kilos annually before 2017 as part of the company’s long-term commitment to the Philippines.
“We hope to achieve about four million kilos annually, which is the maximum capacity of our facility,” Lumunsad told members of the media.
He said PMFTC needs about 2,400 to 2,500 hectares of land planted to tobacco in order to achieve full operations.
The executive said they are confident of increasing production to over one million kilos this year to qualify for the 15 percent share from revenues collected under the sin tax law.
“Last year we were able to hit 900,000 kilos. At present we are now at 600,000 kilos with about 700 hectares, and we are confident that we can hit the one million mark by end of the year for the benefit of our tobacco farmers,” he added.
Earlier, PMFTC president Paul Riley said the company will invest at least $50 million (P2.24 billion) over the next six years for its Virginia tobacco plantation and facilities located in Barangay Ane-i, Claveria an interior municipality in the eastern part of Misamis Oriental.
In the Philippines, most tobacco plantations are located in the northern part of the country, mainly in the provinces of Abra, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, and La Union. These plantations grow the Virginia, burley, Turkish and native strains of tobacco.
PMFTC established in January 2012 its first Virginia tobacco experimental farm, covering 10 hectares in Barangay Ane-i.
It said the initial result of the trial was very promising so they proceeded to the pre-commercialization phase. Some 113 farmers representing a total area of 58.27 hectares were involved in the second phase, which ended October 2013.
After seeing promising results from the pre-commercial launch, National Tobacco Administration (NTA) Administrator Edgardo Zaragoza said most farmers in Claveria were willing to shift to tobacco farming because they could get production assistance from PMFTC.
The farmers said they no longer worry about post-harvest activities since the company will buy the freshly harvested leaves from the growers.
PMFTC also extended production assistance, including tobacco seedlings, to the farmers. After harvest, the company bought the fresh tobacco leaves from the farmers and did the flue curing using state-of-the-art facility.
Besides the promise of a bigger income from tobacco farming, the farmers are also optimistic about the employment opportunities provided by the tobacco firm’s expansion program.
“Though the Ilocos Region has a vibrant tobacco industry, private tobacco firms continue to search for areas to plant tobacco, particularly the Virginia type,” Zaragoza said.
“Apparently, one good choice is Misamis Oriental in Northern Mindanao, chosen for its vast fertile land and good climatic condition,” he added.
Tobacco farmers in Misamis Oriental—particularly in the municipalities of Opol, El Salvador, Alubijid, Laguindingan, Gitagum, Libertad and Initao—have been growing the batek/native variety only.
With the planned area expansion for Virginia tobacco farming, the NTA chief expects continuing improvement in the quality of tobacco leaves produced, adding that enhanced quality would make Philippine tobacco very competitive in the world market.
He noted that increases in tobacco production over the past two years have been driven by expansion in area and increased yields, with an increase of 4.46 percent from 2012 to 2013.
“Once fully operational, the Claveria facility is expected to add about 5 to 8 percent to the total tobacco production in the country,” Zaragoza said.