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Tobacco In Cuba, Between Pests And Mud

Tobacco In Cuba, Between Pests And Mud / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez
Posted on February 9, 2016

14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 9 February 2016 – The
sun has barely risen and boots are sinking into land that is pure mud.
In the furrows, a group of men is trying to revive the planted tobacco,
but nature is working against them. Hundreds of producers in Pinar del
Rio are struggling against the rain and the pests to save a tobacco crop
which promises to be among the lowest in decades.

Prior to 20 January, 42,000 acres of land were planted throughout the
province of Pinar del Rio, but only some 34,000 have managed to survive,
and of these, some 5,000 are seriously affected. The excess moisture has
also encouraged the emergence of the dreaded blue mold disease that
devastates the crop.

A descendant from immigrants who came from the Canary Islands, Justo
Garcia Hernandez hasn’t quit working, even at 73. He moves between the
plantations and the tobacco house where the women of the family are busy
hanging the leaves. In the five acres this farmer has leased under
usufruct, he experiences the failed harvest with special intensity.

This year “the climate is a disaster,” complains Justo. The continuous
rains in recent weeks have ruined countless fields like his. “The
current weather conditions favor the appearance of fungi, bacteria,
viruses and other diseases,” declared the provincial director of Plant
Protection, Ariel Castillo Rodriguez.

The land that Justo and his family work belongs to the Carlos Hidalgo
Credit and Services Cooperative, at Kilometer 5 on the San Juan Highway.
The space allows him to plant up to 80,000 tobacco plants, but this year
many of the plants will have died “having barely emerged from the
ground,” says the farmer.

Still, he says he feels fortunate because his land “has not been
affected by black shank or blue mold,” thanks to his having fumigated.
The situation has been most difficult for the farmers in Vueltabajo
region of Pinar del Rio, particularly in the towns of Con­solación del
Sur, Pinar del Río, San Juan y Martínez and San Luis.

The problems started right at the beginning of the harvest. Virginio
Morales, acting director of the Provincial Tobacco Group, reported to
the local press last week that the combination of high temperatures and
the excessive rainfall associated with the El Niño phenomenon, has
caused the loss of “83,500 seedling beds, and another 27,000 have been

The constant rains have greatly affected Justo’s plantings. “It’s the
greatest damage my harvest has had, the tobacco is drunk, the plants
remain tiny, it doesn’t grow because of the excessive rain.” More than
40% of the harvest has been lost for this reason and the only solution
is “replant, even though it is not the season.”

The optimum time for planting is already over, but hundreds of producers
are going to plant tobacco, even to the end of March, to make up for the
damage the rain has caused to the crop. The bad news is that it is still
raining and the new shoots are also starting to be damaged.

The downpours “leave the leaves without their natural fatness,” comments
Justo, a man who has lived his whole life around the tobacco fields. As
an example, he tells how he has harvested tobacco from very early in the
morning, and “it’s four in the afternoon and I have clean hands, if the
tobacco was good, I would have had to wash my hands ten times.”

Justo, like many tobacco growers in the area, does not believe that the
crop insurance will repay for what was damaged. Last year he lost 16,000
plantings and they only paid him 2,200 Cuban pesos (less than $100 US).

In the Hoyo de Monterrey in San Juan y Martinez, a place where many say
the best tobacco in the world is grown, Luis Brito Ajete concludes, “The
tobacco is bad.” In the five acres he cultivates with his son, “the
plants have leaves like tissue paper,” he complains.

The same thing is happening in Rio Feo, in the town of San Luis. William
Delgado Rodriguez plants tobacco on 7 acres and, although he says he’s
had a “good harvest” in other years, this one “is bad, bad.” On his land
he planted 100,000 sets. “But between the water and the black shank
disease, it’s making me crazy.”

To demonstrate the situation, William pulls up a fragile-looking plant
and shows the damage caused by the disease on the lower stem. In the
area where his farm is nestled, in the Ormani Arenado Cooperative, the
plantings have stood up a little better, but in other areas “the farmers
have had to pull up the entire harvest for replanting.”

The young man noted that, right now, he has very little tobacco in the
drying house and knows cases of other peasants whose tobacco has rotted
after harvesting because of the dampness, so he is not expecting big
profits from the current harvest. “For a 220 pounds, we are paid 1,950
Cuban pesos, and the quality of the leaf here will be very low,” he

From a small battery-powered radio comes the contagious rhythm of Bob
Marley singing “No Woman No Cry” and the farmer takes advantage of it to
say, “well, this is the harvest of tears.”

Source: Tobacco In Cuba, Between Pests And Mud / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos
Fernandez | Translating Cuba –

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