Five Actions to Increase Tobacco Production and Earnings in Cuba

By Osmel Ramirez

HAVANA TIMES – Every year, we celebrate Tobacco Workers’ Day in Cuba on May 29th. These workers include the tabaqueros who roll cigars and the tabacalero who produce the tobacco and cure it in the drying shacks, or at least this is the distinction we have here in Mayari.

It falls on the birthday of Lazaro Pena, who was a tobacco roller, among many other things; and he led the union of this sector, where he stood out for holding union positions at a national and international level.

Cuba has virtuous soil for its cultivation and a long-standing tradition, which makes it widely accepted on the market. Our history is inescapably tied to tobacco; ever since the time of the indigenous populations, who sewed and smoked it, up until the habanos or cigars we smoke today, which are famous for their quality and glamour appeal.

We have dominated the international market outside of the US, but it is precisely that country, with the largest potential market for the most expensive premium cigars, where we aren’t selling our product because of the embargo restrictions.

Countries like the Dominican Republic have been able to take advantage of the embargo to expand their sales. Without a lot of investment in publicity, the Habano is almost as famous as Coca Cola, and its quality linked to the virtues of this land for its cultivation, has been its best marketing strategy.

I live in an excellent area for tobacco farming. It is the main crop at the cooperative I belong to, which is a Credit and Services cooperative, which means that farmers are individuals, who each own their own plot of land. It is an intensive, short life-cycle crop that requires a great deal of attention and expertise.

Quality tobacco can’t be grown everywhere, not even here in this municipality. It only grows well in the areas that are near rivers and streams, but especially in the valley of the Mayari River. These tobacco plantations in the valley are some of the best in all of Cuba. I’d dare to say that they compete with the Vueltabajo, Pinar del Rio, lands but I admit that they have better lowland farmers.

Increasing tobacco production is a national priority, and it has indeed grown a lot. But it could increase a lot more, not only in the number of plants grown but also in efficiency and quality, with the same amount planted. Maybe the most important thing for a cooperative board member is to exceed the number of plants grown, but quality and revenue should be a lot more important.

Few people know this, but you can harvest the tobacco plant in different ways and normally only one method is used. Many also don’t know that loans for cultivation sometimes don’t come until the season is ending; or fertilizer and pesticides stay in warehouses and cooperatives don’t have the means to get and distribute them or they are just incompetent. Meanwhile, the farmers have no way of getting access to them otherwise.

On the other hand, the most innovative and viable methods are written in handbooks, but they aren’t used because people don’t read and trust them; there are farmers with really successful techniques next to others who are unaware of which is the best way to cultivate the plant. Also, the current pricing policies for the type of leaves and quality do not sufficiently encourage maximum productivity.

Therefore, as a citizen journalist and tobacco farmer, I would go out on a limb and recommend five points or actions that could help to increase production and revenue (by at least 25%) in the tobacco industry, with the same area planted. For both the State company and farmers.

  1. The State’s tobacco company should be responsible for distributing fertilizer and pesticide to cooperatives, and then the cooperative responsible for selling it to its member farmers.
  2. Loans should be available before August 31st, the latest we can start preparing the land, under penalty of inescapable fines for bank officials. Likewise, the process for applying for a loan should be a lot simpler.
  3. Increasing the maximum price of tobacco leaves for national consumption ‘sol palo” to 3000 pesos for a quintal (100 lbs). and a minimum of 1000 pesos, depending on the quality.
  4. Increasing the price of the “capadura” (the leaves harvested from the plant after the first cut) to between 750 pesos and 2000 pesos, depending on the quality.
  5. Carry out “farming extension” actions, organizing days in the field where farmers can see the advantages of new farming techniques on the ground, as well as new varieties or the work habits of the most successful farmers.

I firmly believe that with these simple and inexpensive measures tobacco production could be increased, which generates large dividends. Today the country produces just over 30 thousand tons of tobacco and with the same resources well used it could exceed 35 thousand tons. Although the potential we have is much higher.

Osmel Ramirez

I'm from Mayari, a little village in Holguín. I was born on the same day that the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. A good omen, since I identify myself as a pacifist. I am a biologist but I am passionate about politics, history and political philosophy. Writing about these topics, I got to journalism, precisely here on Havana Times. I consider myself a democratic socialist and my main motivation is to try to be useful to the positive change that Cuba needs.

4 thoughts on “Five Actions to Increase Tobacco Production and Earnings in Cuba

  • To be successful in any business venture an entrepreneur must fulfill a want and/or an unfulfilled need in a market. A wise entrepreneur does not start a business or any endeavor when the cost of essential inputs exceed potential revenues. To begin a business guessing, based on false assumptions, that the market wants the product or needs the product is doomed for failure. The aforementioned is simply: Introduction to Business 101.

    To tobacco production. It sounds good. It sounds viable. It uses up fallow arable fertile land. Cuban tobacco production will certainly produce a high grade renown quality product. That’s all great. But, what does the market on a grand scale dictate regarding this questionable smoke product.

    Worldwide, and for many years, health authorities have condemned the usage of tobacco products. Countless deaths have resulted from cigar and cigarette consumption. Tobacco companies in the past resisted the notion that their product caused lung cancer among other types of cancers related to smoking. Here in Canada tobacco smoking is almost seen as a plague. Tobacco consumption is severely restricted in all public places particularly educational institutions, all government offices, health care facilities, airports, and strictly shunned in other establishments. Cigarette/cigar consumers are seen as a pariah because they must stand many, many meters away from non-smokers and far away from any building they use in order to enjoy their habit.

    In Cuba smoking is permissible everywhere. However, how many Cubans can afford to purchase a lucrative Cohiba cigar even at the best of economic times? In reality what kind of market exists in Cuba for Cuban made cigars?

    In today’s world wide recessionary climate, consumers worldwide are not about to indulge in expensive cigar products when only the affluent can afford them at the best of times. To be very blunt, I do not believe there is a viable, revenue generating opportunity in growing tobacco and selling its product abroad.

    I fully agree with Carlyle and the other posters. Food is what Cuba desperately needs now. Specifically, I am no expert in agriculture, potatoes as Carlyle refers is a possible market driven cash crop. There is a need and a want for food and all Cubans, all humans, eat and enjoy a spud. There certainly is a strong economic business case to be made for more food production in Cuba.

    I also commend Osmel with his enthusiasm to try whatever it takes to generate revenue and ameliorate the dire economic situation in his home country.

  • It is indisputable that tobacco kills.

    Osmel illustrates that Cuban agriculture is unable of itself, to change production to other much required products within its own internal market. As a consequence, the importation of food which could be produced in Cuba is ever increasing at a cost far far in excess of any exports, current and potential, that may be obtained for tobacco.

    The soils upon which tobacco is grown for example, in the Vinales valley, could produce very substantial tonnages of potatoes per acre. Urban Cubans (the internal market) when occasionally able to buy potatoes, rush to get them. but the varieties and methods used for production, result in a very poor quality product.

    Cuba like the Almeira area of southern Spain, has the advantage of being the equivalent of an outdoor greenhouse, but although they could be grown year-around, limits tomato production to “seasonal”, purchasing canned tomatoes from Spain and the US for the rest of the year.

    Osmel speaks of a potential 35,000 tonnes of product per annum. In Europe, growers produce that volume of potatoes from a mere 1,000 acres of land. In Idaho (US) it takes 1,400 acres and in Canada, 1650 acres. In Vinales, the Idaho figure ought to be achievable.

    But such levels of production takes skilled management and appropriate equipment – which in turn means production on a much larger scale than the Cuban regime permits, constricting agriculture to small patches of land.

    Osmel demonstrates an enthusiasm for change, that enthusiasm could be harnessed for production of other crops than tobacco. He writes that he seeks “positive change”, but that is exactly what the communist system denies.

  • Here’s an idea: use that high-quality land for growing food instead. Hardly anybody wants your tobacco.

  • Can soil be described as virtuous if it is used to produce a crop which is a cause of the early deaths of so many millions and millions of people ?

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