The Current Challenges Cuban Tobacco Farmers Face in 2022
Although Cuban tobacco is the most renowned around the world, the industry itself is facing a few key challenges that the avid smoker might be interested in learning about. From environmental to regulation and export issues, farmers are facing more problems than they have in decades, meaning that certain producers could (and already have) disappeared entirely – transitioning to domestic production instead. That Partagas Culebras sitting in your humidor could become more sparse as time goes on; remaining a rare pleasure that is exclusive to a visit to the island. To keep you fully informed, here is a quick rundown of the situation in Cuba right now, and the reasons many farmers are abandoning export production.
Export and Pricing Problems
Although Tabacuba (the union of Cuban tobacco companies, who export to over 152 nations) has increased its purchase price from farmers, private export is still prohibited for tobacco. Farmers have no choice but to either sell to state business organisations like this one, or abandon export tobacco entirely (like the sugar industry in the 90s). Many growers, particularly in the Holguin area, which produces the likes of José L Piedra, have already given up. Export regulations change frequently in Cuba. Add fluctuating taxation, and disagreements between Tabacuba and farmers over their production quality (which determines the price), and it’s easy to see why they are looking elsewhere.
The quality control has been inconsistent with export tobacco, they claim – revolving around a lack of communication with Tabacuba. Seemingly high-grade tobacco will be bought for a pittance after company review (some farmers received half of what it costs to produce) which has caused unresolved disagreements between both parties.
The Fertiliser Shortage
The Pinar del Rio area, famous for Vegueros, will have a smaller crop over 2022, owing to fertiliser shortages. This is estimated to be a 17% drop from the previous year, in a region that grows 2/3rds of all tobacco in Cuba. But there’s more bad news: After Hurricane Ida, 3000ha of seedbeds were destroyed, meaning they were replanted outside of the regular growth window, and requiring a surplus of fertiliser.
A Small Voice
The farmers’ demands are often unheard by representatives at Tabacuba. After recently seeking a meeting with authorities in Havana, their request was dismissed. The government has tried to calm the situation between both parties – even introducing new regulations – but there is a feeling that the company is far too powerful for the farmers to force any change. As profit doesn’t meet the cost of labour and production, it’s hard to see whether they can sustain their export yield for the foreign market.
Competition from China
Like wine, China is stepping up as a major competitor in the tobacco market. Although Chinese tobacco is unlikely to ever hold the prestige or historical reputation of Cuban tobacco, this doesn’t mean that a sizeable market share won’t be absorbed by the more affordable, and still high-grade quality, of Chinese cigars. Add a more flexible export system, a more stringent regulations body, and a bigger budget for investment, and the relationship between farmers and export companies should be efficient enough to challenge Cuba in the future.
While things are not looking great for the tobacco farmers, we remain optimistic that solutions will be found. Keep an eye out on our blog for further updates, and explore our selection of Cuban cigars – plenty from some of these regions – now.