Only One Sixth of the Tobacco Harvested in Sancti Spíritus Can Be Used for Export

It is “the lowest production in history” in the province, admit the directors of Acopio

Of the ‘sol en palo’ (sun grown) tobacco, which is used to make cigars, only 351 tons were collected / Escambray

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 May 2024 — The tobacco industry in Sancti Spíritus once again fell below mediocrity. Of the sol en palo [sun grown] tobacco – which is used to make cigarros – only 351 tons were collected, 67% of the plan, while the tapado [shade grown] tobacco, which is used to make puros, is expected to collect 315 tons. The most optimistic estimate of compliance with the plan, according to the State management company Acopio is 87%, and it is not likely that will be achieved.

This is “the lowest production in the history of Sancti Spíritus,” Isidro Hernández, director of Tobacco Collection and Processing in the province, says, without ambiguity. Gone are the times when the province – with a tobacco tradition due to the high number of Canary Islanders who settled there during the colonial era – was, along with Villa Clara, the second largest tobacco producing power in the country, after Pinar del Río.

Hernández regrets that the total estimated harvest – about 666 tons between shaded and sun grown – represents 20% less than what was harvested last year. Of the latter, he details, there are 202,987 cujes – the rod on which the leaves are dried – and of the former, 658,500. The province, he adds, has not met the plan targets for four years.

The planting campaign had started badly: it was barely 49% complete

The planting campaign had started badly and was barely 49% complete. According to the official press, which could not hide the disappointment with the figures, the main causes of the debacle were the lack of fuel to carry out the planting and “that many producers did not plant because the crop is not profitable.”

The most serious factor is that, of the entire harvest of shaded tobacco, only 104 tons have sufficient quality to make cigars for export, when they should have delivered 315 tons. The Sancti Spiritus leaf is used as a wrapper for cigars, on which presentation and color depend, while the Vuelta Abajo – from Pinar del Río– is ideal for the filler or interior of the cigar.

The manager licked his wounds and attributed the failure to “natural” causes, such as the rains in January and February, plant diseases – such as the so-called “brown leg” – and the “impact of atmospheric ozone.” However, he admitted that there was a late planting in the first half of the year of hectares of tobacco that, although it has not yet been harvested, already predicts a bad result.

The most determining factor, however, was the human factor. Acopio had hired about 1,180 producers but only about 480 actually responded. There were not enough cutters or vegueros (field workers) to take care of the leaf, and if the covered tobacco had better results it was because of the “stimulation with currency” that its producers enjoy. Now, Hernández assured, “a stimulation system in MLC (freely convertible currency)” is being negotiated with the Government to encourage those who deal with sun-grown tobacco. In his words, so that the currency “reverses the situation and sows more.”

 Acopio had hired about 1,180 producers but only about 480 actually responded

A similar situation is playing out in Las Tunas, a province that is rather plebeian in tobacco production, where they only managed to plant 102 hectares of the 163 planned. And even achieving that number “was very difficult,” confessed the provincial director of Tobacco Collection and Processing, Yanelys Ramírez. She also said that the failure had to do with the rains – in her case, those of October and November 2023 – which delayed the planting.

“In addition, in the month of November the physical fuel arrived at the pumps and the land that would be allocated to the line began to be prepared,” she complained. As a measure to improve results, they extended the campaign until March. It didn’t work. “We hope that the next campaign will be better,” was her apology.

To illustrate the productive “efforts” of Las Tunas, the official press presents the case of Orney Hernández, a guajiro from Sancti Spíritus “with his mind loaded with dreams” but only two years of experience as a field worker. With more than 1,000 cujes saved, he plans to contribute his production to Acopio, because they promised him “benefits.”

“With these benefits, the planting and subsequent harvest will be very attractive,” he emphasizes, encouraged by the fact that “the bandits do not steal the tobacco fields so there is no need to keep constant guards, the animals do not eat the plants, there is a safe market and, if pests appear, they are controlled.”

Despite the debacle of the tobacco industry, which each year reports more reduced and poorer quality production — which they continue to attribute to the passage of Hurricane Ian in 2022 — both the regime and its Spanish counterpart, who rule the industry, find ways to continue obtaining increasingly higher profits. At the beginning of March, the Habano Festival, held annually in the capital of the Island, raised 19.3 million dollars from the sale* of eight humidors alone – until last year six were traditionally sold – a record figure that the Government assures will be invested in Public Health.

 *Translator’s note: A single humidor, signed by President Diaz-Canel, sold for $4.9 million.


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