Cuban Tobacco ‘Has Suffered the Largest Blow in its History’

A tobacco curing house completely collapsed in San Juan y Martínez. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 4 October 2022 — Hurricane Ian has been a “demolishing blow” for Cuba’s most select tobacco cultivation, the official press reported, with major material damage and the loss of thousands of tons of raw material.

Hurricane Ian — a category three storm with heavy rains and winds of up to 125 miles per hour — caused massive damage, “both in tons and in the quality of a crop that contributes hundreds of millions of dollars for export every year,” according to the official newspaper Granma.

The digital media Cubadebate also reported on the destruction of much of the infrastructure of the tobacco sector in Pinar del Río, the province where a large part of Cuban tobacco is grown and where the raw material of the most sought-after cigars comes from.

The Pinar del Río Agriculture delegate, Víctor Fidel Hernández, told Granma that “it’s the biggest blow that the tobacco infrastructure has suffered in its history.”

In the country’s main tobacco-producing region, 90% of the approximately 12,000 natural curing houses, where tobacco leaves are stored for drying, have been damaged.

The storm also dampened “around 11,000 tons of tobacco” that was in the process of drying, and much of it will have to be discarded.

The curing sheds and other facilities should be repaired for the next harvest, which was scheduled to begin on October 20. For that they estimate that about 6,003493 cubic feet of wood and 600 tons of nails will be needed.

This blow to the sector comes at an already delicate time for the Cuban tobacco sector. The Cuban state tobacco company produced less than half of what was planned from January to June, due to lack of basic inputs, logistical problems and breakdowns, among other problems.

The situation, a continuation of the one experienced in 2021, has caused “instability” in the “distribution in the retail sales network” of tobacco within Cuba, Granma acknowledged this August.

Tobacco, which employs about 200,000 workers — 250,000 at the peak of the harvest — is one of the largest sources of income for Cuba.

Production decreased from 32,000 tons in 2017 to 25,800 in 2020, according to official data; 2021 was one of the worst years for the Cuban countryside in the last decade, as the Minister of Agriculture, Ydael Pérez Brito, recently said.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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