14ymedio, Havana, 7 December 2020 — The bad news is piling up in Cuba. One of the most emblematic products of the Island, tobacco, does not promise a good harvest after the blows of Hurricane Eta flooded the fields of Pinar del Río, where 70% of the country’s leaf is usually grown. In October there was twice the rains because of a previous storm, Delta.
As a result, the authorities have been forced to deduct 3,500 hectares from the 19,700 of the initial plan. And it remains to be seen if even that figure will be reached, as the damage caused and the delay make it an almost impossible effort to meet the plan.
Tobacco is a huge source of income for a government that cannot afford to lose any more dollars now. Only last year, the profit from tobacco exports was almost 270 million dollars, somewhat better than the previous year but far from the 400 million dollars reported in 2017.
Joel Hernández, director of the Integral and Tobacco Company of Pinar del Río, has indicated that of the 4,000 hectares initially planned in the province, the total has been reduced to 3,400 and only half can be planted before the end of the year. The delay has consequences, according to the producers themselves, since it implies leaving too much product to be sown for January and February, which in turn delays the harvest until April, a month complicated by pests and adverse weather.
Just one of those fears materialized for the tobacco growers of the Hoyo de Monterrey, a place that is considered the epicenter of the best tobacco grown in Cuba and one of the highest quality in the world. Producers in the area were severely affected by the constant rains left by Hurricane Eta in early November, a time when the seedlings are at their most fragile stage.
“Everything we flooded, lost more than half of the positions and surviving longer give you a snuff of the highest quality because they suffered a lot , ” he told 14ymedio Jose Carlos, a tobacco of the municipality whose family has been dedicated to the cultivation almost a century. “This is very bad news because we depend on tobacco to survive,” he adds.
Tobacco, like coffee, sugar cane, potatoes and cocoa are a commercial monopoly of the State. The farmers can cultivate these crops but they are obliged to sell them to the official entities that distribute and export them. A damaged crop can mean the loss of most of the income for farmers who are practically exclusively dedicated to tobacco.
“We are trying to go against the clock and re-plant seedlings but the rains have continued, the land is quite flooded and this is already late for tobacco, it won’t be able to reach the height or the quality of the leaf that is needed for the more select cigars,” explains Urbano, José Carlos’ father and a man with extensive experience in the cultivation of the so-called layer leaves, which are grown in covered tobacco fields.
“It is not only what was lost in plantings, but time. When the downpours began we had everything organized, the day laborers hired and the whole family ready to tend the crops but now the calendar is stuck on Christmas and hiring people in these times is more expensive and difficult,” explains Urbano to this newspaper.
“There are years that we caught the train in good time, but this year, the train has left the station without us. What remains is to try not to lose the work already done and to continue taking care of the plants even if we know it will not be a good harvest,” he says . “I think that the flowers and papayas that we have planted in part of the farms are the ones that will guarantee us a plate of food next year, because the tobacco is not going to be there.”
Of more than 7,000 hectares that should have been planted at the end of November, only 1,289 were planted. In addition, 12,000 seedbeds were completely ruined by the rains and another 16,000 were partially damaged. Faced with this situation, the Government has praised the 16 hour marathon days being put in by producers and calls for the voluntary effort of the people of Pinar del Río — “appealing to the 16,000 yoke of oxen existing in the province” — to arrive at figures that allow one to maintain certain levels of optimism.
Despite several testimonies from optimistic farmers cited by the state newspaper Granma, the newspaper does not hide the bad situation. Virginio Morales, who has been a specialist in the Tabacuba Business Group for 47 years, explained to the official press that it is not strange that the consequences of a meteorological phenomenon seriously affect the Cuban fields but admits that he has never seen such a case. “We have not had any like this one, because the events have been consecutive,” he told the official press.
Nelson Rodríguez, a Doctor of Science and director of the San Juan and Martínez Tobacco Experimental Station, also told Granma that the damage is greater than usual. “November is the optimal month for sowing, and it was hardly possible to take advantage of it,” he explains. “As we move away from the optimal period, the quality suffers.”
José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, recently visited the area to see the damage caused by the hurricane, where he saw that work was being done to make up for lost time, but urged better use of the land and increasing the production of food without harming tobacco.
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