CLAVERIA, Misamis Oriental_At the bamboo farm shed by the field of near-mature Virginia tobacco in Barangay Madaguing, contract-grower Gliceria Mission and her husband Felipe show off colored posters rendered on tarpaulin and red banners warning of non-entry to an area newly sprayed with pesticide.
On the posters are pictorial images of the short-term and long-term health consequences of wrong pesticides use, including asthma, sweating, skin allergies as well as liver cirrhosis, tumors and cancer.
A poster on pesticide use provided to farmers in Claveria, Misamis Oriental by PMFTC contain no images of women. According to Virginia Pacunio-Guanzon, women farmers should be represented by images even if they do not directly apply pesticides because they are also at risk. / Credit: Lina Saragal Reyes
Each farmer contracted by the Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC) since 2013 has received a batch of informative materials like these posters, as well as comic booklets and brochures on good agricultural practices. The text is written in Tagalog and Visayan to make it accessible to more farmers, but there is still something missing.
"It is for the men who spray the plants as no women are in the pictures,’’ noted Mission.
She was quick to add that males are given priority because men apply the pesticides using stainless steel sprayers that are heavy to carry for women. But a development communicator who was asked to comment said that the absence of women also makes invisible the health impacts unique to their gender.
"Women images should be represented as they are still exposed even if they are not sprayers,’’ said Virginia Pacunio-Guanzon, a specialist in environmental management, and a consultant on development communication.
"Despite their being not directly involved in the spraying of pesticides, women are still at risk to exposure to the chemicals," she added. "Women, especially pregnant and lactating mothers, are more vulnerable to diseases of the reproductive organs due to chemicals. They are still around in the farm, and when the men spraying pesticides return home, it is the women who wash the clothes of the husbands and sons."
As pointed out by a study at the Claveria campus of the University of Science and Technology in the Southern Philippines (USTP), women farm workers here are involved in tasks such as transplanting, weeding and harvesting.
Also, researchers in a Brazil-based study in a tobacco-growing community pointed out that women are primary study subjects on the health and environmental impacts of tobacco growing because of "their role in tobacco production, combined with their essential role in caring for the family, especially related to health.’’
The study also noted that previous women-centered studies have shown "a general trend for women to feel and express more concerns than men and that this perception is mediated by the social context.’’
Pacunio-Guanzon stressed these women’s roles in the context of the family.
"In fact, everyone in the family, including the children, should be part of the picture and all must exercise safety precautions. The probability is high that the children, even if they do not participate in tasks, are hovering at the edges of the farm and the mother is bringing lunch or breakfast to the workers,’’ said Pacunio-Guanzon, also the executive director of the non-government organization Peace and Sustainable Development Movers.
According to Mission and Minda Gamalo, the pesticides supplied by PMFTC include acephate (brandname, Compete 75 SP), indoxacarb (Steward), flubendiamide (Fenos 480 SC) and flumetralin (Flumex 15 EC), a sucker growth inhibitor.
All but flubendiamide are among the Pesticide Action Network's (PAN) International List of Highly Hazardous Pesticides. However, none of them are considered highly hazardous chemicals by the World Health Organization (WHO).
PMFTC technicians and spokespersons could not be interviewed to comment as requests for appointments at the field facility in Barangay Ane-I, Claveria, were not approved and calls to the head office in Makati were unanswered.
Meanwhile, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), of which the Philippines is a signatory, has established measures to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of tobacco agriculture.
In October last year, the eighth Conference of the Parties (COP) of the WHO-FCTC recommended strategies to implement the articles pertaining to those measures. Among them, encouraging farmers to switch to other crops and implementing health and environmental protection policies related to tobacco farming.
According to the Southeast Alliance on Tobacco Control (SEATCA), a group that helps countries in protecting farmers from the tobacco industry and assists countries in Southeast Asia to implement the WHO-FCTC, "as a signatory to the FCTC, the Philippine government is obliged to adopt these measures."
SEATCA further said, "the Philippine government must step up its efforts to truly assist farmers to find alternative livelihoods. After all, there are already studies that [show] non-tobacco crops are more profitable and are less toxic to the environment."
On the ground, however, not much has been done in Claveria or in Misamis Oriental. In its April 2018 implementation report to the WHO-FCTC, the Philippine government noted that it was implementing a study on the health impacts on tobacco farmers in the Ilocos region, where 67 percent of the country’s tobacco is produced.
This is the second part of a two-part series that looks at the environmental impact of tobacco growing on women farmers in the southern Philippines. It is adapted from the original story, which was published in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily on Feb. 15. To read Part 1, click here.
Reporting for this story was supported by a grant from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the South East Asia Press Alliance.