For Cuba’s ‘Vegueros’ (Farmers) in Sancti Spiritus, Tobacco Is No Longer a Profitable Business

Contrary to the method of curing in the sun, the production of covered tobacco is not at risk.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 March 2024 — The current tobacco planting campaign in Sancti Spíritus, the territory with the second highest production in the country, is barely at 49%. According to the official press, which could not disguise its disappointment with the figure, the main causes of the debacle are the lack of fuel to carry out the planting and the fact that “many producers did not plant because the crop is not profitable.”

Isidro Hernández Toledo, agricultural director of the Acopio y Beneficio de Tabaco company in Sancti Spíritus, explained to the local media Escambray that until February, only 1,918 acres of tobacco were planted out of a plan of 3,954. The covered tobacco is not at risk, since they managed to plant 717 acres – 74 more than planned – but for sol en palo, sun-curing, the most widespread form of cultivation in the territory, barely 1,200 acres of the 3,334 planned were achieved.

“That resulted in a high number of producers not planting tobacco,” said Hernández Toledo, who says that the poor performance during the planting stage will have its consequences later, during the collection of tobacco at the end of the campaign.

“This type of planting (sun-curing) has its antecedent in the previous campaign”

According to Escambray, which takes advantage of the manager’s statement to focus on the farmers, “this type of planting (sun-curing) has its antecedent in the previous campaign.”* Despite the lack of some inputs, he adds, there are moments of the process that are prioritized, such as the capadura,** for which the farmers have “fertilizers, pesticides and other necessary resources for that second phase of the tobacco plant.”

“Obtaining capadura is an essential way to increase agricultural yield,” Hernández continues, although both the director and the media recognize that this has not managed to encourage the farmers, which translates into a worrying drop in production.

In October 2023, when the Sancti Spirítus tobacco sector already predicted the biggest fiasco in its planting history, the local government tried to stimulate the vegueros by offering a bonus with which they could recover 50% of their spending on fertilizers and pesticides if they managed to produce more than 1.4 tons per 2.5 acres.

The payment per ton of tobacco was also increased to 15,000 pesos, or 690 pesos per 100 pounds, in addition to reducing the profit received by the State from the agricultural inputs it sells to producers from 12% to 2%. The measures, however, did not manage to get Sancti Spíritus out of the crisis that year or turn the planting of tobacco into a “profitable” business, despite the fact that every year the industry injects millions of pesos into the State coffers.

At the moment, the vegueros are satisfied with reaching the 375 tons of covered tobacco planned for this campaign

“Many producers did not see that as an incentive and stopped planting; the process of contracting the next campaign has not yet begun because we are waiting for an economic increase for that crop, and we hope that tobacco production in the province will recover, specifically that method (sun-curing),” Hernández said.

At the moment, the vegueros are content with reaching the 375 tons of covered tobacco planned for this campaign, a goal that they consider has “real possibilities” of being met. Likewise, the province has managed to collect 621,000 bales of tobacco, 80% of what was planned.

Despite the debacle of the tobacco industry, which every year reports smaller and poorer-quality harvests, which they continue to attribute to the passage of Hurricane Ian in 2022, both the regime and its Spanish counterpart that rule the industry find ways to continue obtaining higher and higher profits. At the beginning of March, the Habano Festival, held annually in the capital of the Island, raised 19.3 million dollars in the sale of eight humidors alone – up until last year six were traditionally sold – a record figure that the Government says it will invest in Public Health.

Translator’s notes:
* Many of the covered drying sheds were destroyed in Hurricane Ian in 2022.
** Capadura is the second growth of tobacco leaves after the stalk is trimmed, a common practice in Cuba. Translated by Regina Anavy


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