In many places tobacco is grown on soils with low fertility, subject to leaching of nutrients and easily erodible. Some tobaccos, such as Oriental, are also best grown in arid environments. Such conditions are invariably not suitable for successful production of other crops. Furthermore, tobacco producing areas are in some cases distant from air and shipping ports and few other crops grown in bulk can bear the expense of transport in these areas. Tobacco is also less perishable than most other potential alternative crops and it stores well. All these factors, plus the profitability of tobacco, make the search for crops to replace tobacco an extremely difficult task.
Nicolas Bouvier (France) has been studying this issue in a European context. Tobacco farms are generally small and therefore high income per hectare is important. For those on difficult soils in extremely arid conditions, such as northern Greece, there are no obvious alternative crops. Eco-tourism is a possible alternative source of income (Mattas), but it is expecting a lot of the tourist. For more amenable soils and climates, possible alternatives are fruit, vegetables and battery farming (especially pigs). However, these would encroach on already fragile markets. Battery meat and egg production are, in addition, losing public appeal. Gross margins for vines and strawberries exceed that for tobacco, while those for tomatoes, asparagus, potatoes and wheat are lower. Vines need special conditions for producing acceptably adequate products and the small size of most tobacco farms make most of the other crops unviable. For crops like strawberries, asparagus and tomatoes, gross over-production would result, even if only a small proportion of tobacco growers would make the change. The conclusion is that any loss of tobacco would seriously affect the livelihood of growers.
Alternative crops require:
- High profitability on a small land surface;
- Stable market perspective;
- No negative impact on the environment;
- A high level of employment;
- Adaptability to relatively poor regions and, as a general rule, to the most uneducated and ageing sector of the population.
Similar investigations are being carried out in Canada and the USA (Kentucky), as reported above.