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Harvest Time in Cuba

Cuba's 1996 Crop Has Been Hit Hard by Bad Weather, but Production May Still Be the Highest in Years
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

(continued from page 1)

Until last year's harvest, tobacco farmers suffered through three harvests with a horrific shortage of agricultural products, not to mention such everyday goods as gasoline and electricity. The situation improved slightly last year after the key agents for fine Cuban cigars decided to finance the harvest; Tabacalera S.A., the Spanish tobacco monopoly, invested more than $25 million. Now, Cuba's cigar importers, mostly from Europe, basically pay for their cigars in advance, lending the money to the Cubans for tobacco growing and incentives for Havana's cigar factories. Last year was the first time the system was used. There were some problems, mostly due to shortages in tractors and fuel. Much of the necessary materials never reached the farmers.

According to Piña, the program went much more smoothly this year. He says that the money filtered down to farmers in the form of credits, which were used to buy agricultural products from local Ministry of Agriculture warehouses in tobacco-growing areas. Apparently, the warehouses were fully stocked this year. "The farmers couldn't be more happy this year in this regard," says Piña.

Nonetheless, farmers weren't completely content with this year's harvest. They had to contend with miserable weather for a large part of the growing season. In October, wet weather adversely affected the seed beds for a large part of the Vuelta Abajo, so many farmers had to replant. In late December and early January, another weather front brought heavy rains and strong winds, which not only destroyed many tobacco plants but damaged tapados and curing barns. Piña reported that about 11,000 acres had to be replanted in January and many structures in the tobacco fields had to be repaired or rebuilt. Finally, as a portion of the crop was harvested, most of Cuba was struck with unseasonably cold temperatures, which raised the danger of blue mold outbreaks and other tobacco diseases, as well as complicating the early stages of curing and fermentation.

The recent weather problems have tobacco men concerned but still upbeat. "We can only hope for the best," says Habanos' Martinez. "In the end, you have to remember that tobacco is an agricultural product. But we are still keeping our fingers crossed."


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