The Loneliness of the Tobacco Growers / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Farmer with tobacco leaves
Farmer with tobacco leaves

Reinaldo Escobar, Pinar del Rio, 5 July 2014

The tobacco growers of San Juan y Martinez listened — between astonishment and helplessness – to the National Assembly debates. They expected that their difficulties and the problems of payment would be addressed during the discussions of some committee. They were disappointed.

In the Rafael Morán, cooperative, located in the town of San Juan y Martinez, frustration spread among the farmers. Just weeks earlier, the producers had been visited by a representative of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), representatives of the Communist Party in the town, and several members of the National Tabacuba Business. The tobacco farmers expressed their difficulties and complaints to these officials.

The meeting was part of the government campaign called “We’re going for more …” whose visible face was Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. The State offensive to improve production led to these meetings between the producers and the authorities of the sector. In the meetings the feeling of many producers emerged, some of which asserted publicly that “If there’s no change in the price of tobacco, it is going to be very difficult.”

Among the main complaints expressed by the tobacco farmers was the discrepancy between the real costs of producing tobacco and the price that the state companies pay for dried tobacco. According to the official figures, it should cost a farmer 1.255 Cuban pesos (CUP) to produce 100 pounds of tobacco, but in reality the costs far exceed the official estimate.

Even the slightest setback so that leads the tobacco harvest to being considered “affected,” which lowers its price and leaves the producer in arrears. The disagreement with the payments made by State, the only permitted buyer, for the so-called “affected tobacco,” also showed up at the meeting. This supposedly damaged raw material is used industrially in the production of cigarettes. In the case of the plantations of San Juan y Martinez, the “affected leaves” are excellent quality and quality cigars and cigarettes can be made with them.

“It brings in great wealth in hard currency, and yet the peasant loses,” the producer laments.

The State standards establish that tobacco is “affected” if it doesn’t have good colors nor an adequate constitution to be considered high quality. But this doesn’t justify the paltry price of 345 Cuban pesos (CUP) per 100 pounds, established by the official valuation. If a farmer has the least amount affected, then he loses all the economic support that could pay for the crop. For its part, the State gets huge dividends, especially in the international market.

Hence, the concern of these tobacco growers on seeing that the National Assembly hasn’t been informed that there is no review process for the popularly called “purchase law.” The absence of any discussion of this subject made the growers feel cheated and forgotten. In the case of Pinar del Rio the prices are higher than in other provinces, so the dissatisfaction is higher in other tobacco-growing regions of the country.

“We haven’t seen our demands reflected,” claims Néstor Pérez González. “We also discussed the situation of poverty in the area, which is reflected in the farmers’ standard of living and doesn’t reflect the fact that this municipality exceed its tobacco production goals,” the farmer says.

During the conversation Néstor Pérez expressed his concern without restraint.” This year has been critical, so we are predicting a worse economic scenario for the area.” The crop damage has been caused by excessive rainfall during the period. A consequence of this situation is that the farmers have perceived the injustice of low payments for the so-called “affected tobacco” more seriously. “It will be affected, but it brings in great wealth in hard currency, and yet the peasant loses,” the producer laments.

“The so-called ‘cost sheets’ that they are offering us are well below the real costs of production; thus our demand that the prices should be raised,” says Juan Pablo, who combines his tobacco with the growing of lowers and fruit. The problem greatly affects the cooperatives such as the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC).

The tobacco growers have taken the pulse of the situation and feel that are being left aside. “We had the illusion that the Assembly would reflect and we would glimpse some change.” However, the last parliamentary session has brought more frustration than hope to the tobacco growing area of San Juan y Martinez and the mythical Hoyo de Monterrey.