The future of processed tobacco

Ian Ocampo Flora

IMAGINE yourself efficiently driving your car fueled by a mix of tobacco bio-fuel and latter in the day enjoying your favorite green salad, with vegetables organically grown with tobacco fertilizer, served with a generous mix of mint-smelling food oil made from tobacco seeds.

Soon, with a little more push in the field of tobacco research, one need not imagine to be able to enjoy such processed tobacco products. In fact, some of these products are already in use in some areas and industries both here and abroad.

One clear example is the country’s aquaculture sector that has long been recommending the use of tobacco dust for pond sterilization with tobacco as an organic alternative to chemicals and synthetic pesticides.

There were also international studies conducted to ascertain the viability of using tobacco for the production of oil used in bio fuel and the results are very promising. Others are in a bid to promote gourmet oil from tobacco seeds in the same league of other well known cooking oils.

Technological demos by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) in the northern regions have recommended tobacco dust for use during the preparation or sterilization of fishponds before the stocking of fingerlings.

The study of David D. Kuhn et. al in 2014 showed that tobacco dust is an effective molluscicide in aquaculture applications and can eliminate freshwater snails. Kuhn’s team affirmed the reliability of dusts from tobacco types like burley, flue-cured, truck burley, and truck flue-cured in exterminating snails.

Even the officials of the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) affirmed the usefulness of tobacco dust as an organic, readily degradable, and environment-friendly alternative to chemical pesticides that leave chemical residues and pollution.

However, while there were successful field tests on the usefulness of tobacco dust in Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, Pangasinan and Ilocos Sur, access to tobacco dust is actually difficult for the first three provinces from Central Luzon.

Pangasinan and Ilocos Sur have access to the tobacco dust because these provinces are tobacco growing areas. More than half of the provinces in Central Luzon have ceased to produce tobacco. The last time that tobacco was planted in Pampanga was in the height of the Tobacco Monopoly in the 17th century.

Pampanga fish pond owner Jose Velencia said that he once tried using tobacco dust on his ponds and found it very effective. However, the difficulty of obtaining dust for regular use proved to be difficult.

“The nearest places that grow tobacco are some towns in Tarlac and Nueva Ecija. You can get stalks only after the leaves are harvested but still you would need to have a way to turn these to tobacco dust. Also the time, distance and effort to obtain discarded tobacco parts is not cost efficient,” Valencia said in vernacular.

But Valencia noted that if only there was an efficient way to access tobacco dust, it would surely create a market especially in Pampanga. The province has a fish production of 150,000 metric tons yearly and these accounts for nearly four percent of the country’s fisheries production.

Valencia said that, while there is no real commercial effort to make tobacco dust readily accessible, there would never be a market for this viable by-product of processed tobacco.

Another exciting prospect is the use of tobacco for the production of gourmet oil. An article of Carmela B. Brion of the Bureau of Agriculture Research notes that tobacco seed oil may soon be on commercial shelves of local supermarkets, along with oils made from sunflower, coconut, soybean, corn and canola.

“Consumers need not worry, for it has been reported that tobacco seed oil is free from nicotine, and remarkably, 70 percent of the tobacco seed contains protein, carbohydrate, and crude fiber,” Briones said.

Tobacco seed oil is free from toxic substances and has been widely used in Bulgaria, Turkey, Tunisia and Greece as edible oil.

This same usefulness of tobacco seeds has drawn attention to their possible potential for use in bio-fuel. The oil in a tobacco seeds is about roughly 40 percent by weight but the yield is relative low compare to other sources of bio-fuel.

But unlike tobacco dust, there is more commercial and private sector support for the development of modified tobacco for production of bio-fuel. Airline companies and research institutes are investing resources to make tobacco a stable source of bio-fuel in bid to bring down fuel prices and help the environment.

In fact much effort has been made that there has been developments in the research of tobacco oil. Agricultural engineer Ruth Sanz-Barrio has demonstrated, for the first time, in her recent research the viability of using specific tobacco proteins as biotechnological tools in plants through genetic modification.

Despite all of these, tobacco dust, gourmet oil, and bio-fuel remain merely only bright prospects if there are no real business sector and government support to institutionalize these on a commercial scale as well as fund research and development efforts to make them more accessible and commercially viable. And with the possibility of creating more income for the estimated 43,960 tobacco farmers and their 300,000 dependents and spawning new industries and products from tobacco, these prospects are just too tempting to ignore.