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From loan sharks to livestock: a day in the life of a Filipino tobacco farmer

Last season, this Filipino tobacco farm produced 4,404 pounds of tobacco, yet much of their profit goes back to loan sharks.

  • 2 months ago
  • January 2, 2024
4 min read
Wilifred, a Filipino tobacco farmer, lights a cigarette as a signal that he has finished planting for the day | Photo courtesy of Jose Monsieur Santos Wilifred, a Filipino tobacco farmer, lights a cigarette as a signal that he has finished planting for the day | Photo courtesy of Jose Monsieur Santos
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PINILI, Philippines ꟷ Today’s Photo Gallery comes from Jose Monsieur Santos, a journalist who attended the University of Santo Tomas. He has served as a photographer and correspondent for Bulatlat, Focus Taiwan (CNA), Nurphoto Agency, Rapply, and Philstar. This gallery features a day in the life of a tobacco farmer in the Philippines.

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A farmer walks through the field carrying his harvest as he prepares for the next batch of seedlings to be planted. These farmers often plant additional crops between tobacco harvests. Last season, they produced 1,998 kilograms [4,404 pounds] of tobacco. They earned over 100,000 Filipino pesos [$1,805 USD] from fruits harvested as alternate produce.

Many farmers in the Philippines rely on loan sharks who act like middlemen in the production of crops. Much of the harvest remains committed to these cowboys before production. The loan sharks take livestock and farm equipment as collateral for unpaid loans.

Farmers become trapped in a cycle of dependency and debt. Loan sharks buy crops at unfair prices and control access to farm inputs. That cycle keeps farmers vulnerable and exploited. They plant with their own labor, on their own land, without much say in the process.

The farmers must use a majority of their profit to pay off loans for inputs like seeds and fertilizer. If they make an initial profit of 100,000 Filipino pesos [$1,805 USD], their person income may be 45,000 [$812 USD].

Wilfred Saludes, 51, has been working as a tobacco farmer since he was 20. He is no stranger to the challenges that farm workers face in between harvests.

According to a recent article from the Philippine News Agency, in 2022, the National Tobacco Administration recorded a total of 43.81 million kilograms of tobacco produced by local farmers in the Philippines. Of that, 53 percent or 23.21 million kilograms went toward exports. Forty-seven percent or 20.59 million kilograms supplied the local tobacco manufacturers.

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