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Tobacco growers in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio hope U.S. embargo is lifted

Tobacco growers in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio hope U.S. embargo is lifted
Farmer says tobacco farm’s quality relies on faithfulness to ancient
tradition
Author: Hatzel Vela, Reporter, hvela@Local10.com
Andrea Torres, Local10.com Reporter, atorres@local10.com
Published On: Oct 26 2015 04:50:26 PM EDT Updated On: Nov 03 2015
02:12:53 AM EST

PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba –
Like his father and grandfather, Jose Manuel Junco grew up working in
the world’s most revered tobacco land. He devotes his life to the rich
red soil of the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio, the island’s
westernmost 4,200 square miles.

About a two-hour drive west of Havana, near the remote town of Viñales,
Junco supervises a small farm. Everything is done by hand, from the
planting of the seeds to the selection of leaves for the cigar. Nothing
goes to waste.

Junco, 62, walked into a rustic warehouse, known as the “casa de tabaco”
or curing barn. Like an oak barrel to age wine, he said the house is
where the fermentation process happens.

“This is where they are working on selection,” Junco said, while
pointing to women sitting at a small wooden table. “Part of the process
is separating the leaves.”

The province produces about 70 percent of the island’s tobacco,
according to officials. The farm’s remote wooden warehouse can store
three to four tons of tobacco at a time, even when they produce up to 46
tons, Junco said.

Last year, Cubans exported about 142 million high quality cigars known
as “puros” and reported about $20 million in earnings. Among the brands
of cigars that Cuba exports are the Cohiba, Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta.

At the farm, Junco said he hopes that when and if the U.S. embargo is
lifted, his cooperative can lower production costs with access to
fertilizers and machines.

They would not only use the equipment to grow tobacco, but on the off
season, they also grow vegetables and grains. His family, he said,
relies on the land. It’s how they have survived for generations and how
they survive today.

THIS SEASON

To counter the effects of the drought that is expected in January and
February, this year’s planting season began in October. Cuba is expected
to produce about 27,000 tons during the 2015-2016 season, according to
officials.

For about three decades, Junco has been a member of a worker
cooperative, a social enterprise that works like a multi-stakeholder
association but remains under government control. The system was
implemented in 1959. The government owns the land, buys production and
offers credit to cover costs.

The local cooperatives are members of national associations and unions,
such as the trade union council of agricultural and forestry workers.
The Cuban National Association of Small Farmers estimates Pinar del Rio
has about 36,900 members.

CUBA-U.S. RELATIONS

A Cuban official told reporters in October that the Cuban government
estimates the U.S. embargo has caused the agricultural sector at least
$450 million in damages.

Source: Tobacco growers in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio hope U.S. embargo is
lifted | Cuba Coast to Coast – Home –
www.local10.com/news/cuba-coast-to-coast/tobacco-growers-in-cubas-pinar-del-rio-hope-us-embargo-is-lifted/35959778

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