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As all activities, also tobacco production interacts with the environment. We are committed to minimize the impact of leaf production on the environment through appropriate and advanced techniques. Our members are trained on and follow a range of practices to safeguard the environment where they live. Like for all agricultural production, the three most important resources to achieve good yields of good-quality tobacco are fertilizers, plant protection products, and water. Tobacco grows well also in poor soils where other plants would not thrive, but it nonetheless requires some fertilizers especially in the very light soils of the tropical countries.

Environmental awareness

Environmental awareness and the active promotion of tree-planting have had clearly positive impacts, in some areas even reversing the effects of deforestation. In the major Virginia tobacco-producing regions of southern Brazil, for example, wood has always been the most economical and viable fuel for the curing process. Nevertheless, tobacco growers in the region of the country have emerged as the most conscientious wood-users in the country, directly contributing to the doubling of the natural forest cover of the state of Rio Grande do Sul in only twenty years. It can impossibly be denied that Brazil stands out as a prime example of the commitment there has been to develop sustainable wood fuel resources.

Leaders in promoting agricultural practice

The tobacco sector has been one of the leaders in promoting sustainability and good agricultural practices (GAP). These subjects are central to the debates, discussions and decision-making processes between ITGA and sectoral bodies such as CORESTA, the international Scientific Research Committee on Tobacco. All our members are trained on and follow the Good Agricultural Practices Guideline of the tobacco sector. The application of GAPs improves tobacco yields, improves the quality of the leaf and reduces labour requirements, resulting in higher income for the growers.

Why Grow Tobacco?

For all entrepreneurs, income is an important part of the choice of why to do something. Our members choose to grow tobacco because in most cases it is the best possible choice in the conditions of their region or country. Tobacco is more resilient to drought than other crops, thus assuring an income also where other crops fail. Tobacco grows well on poor or marginal soils where other crops would fail. Tobacco is easily stored on farms for several weeks without spoiling, which is essential in countries that do not have a cold chain.

Choice of an energy source

The choice of an energy source, regardless of its purpose, is always dependent on factors like availability, delivery cost, general convenience, labour requirements, and efficiency. Thus, particularly people living in developing countries often prefer to use – for domestic, agricultural and other purposes – wood rather than alternative fuels, as it is cheap and readily available. Wood continues to be for them a fuel of necessity rather than of choice. In our present days, most of the wood-using countries are actively encouraged to conserve their existing resources, especially since much flue-cured tobacco is grown in countries with a deficit or a prospective deficit of fuel-wood. Encouragement is given to afforestation projects and to improving the techniques of curing and barn design and construction.

Other Curing Alternatives

Air curing does not require fuels, but in some countries the cheapest and most available material to build a curing barn is wood. Rather than cutting trees, our members in Malawi, one of the largest producers of Burley air-cured tobacco, use “live barns”. These consist of a shed that is built using the trunks of trees which have been planted at a prescribed distance: so the trunks become the pillars of the shed. Given the speed of growth of some tree species in Africa, farmers can have a live barn in three years from planting the trees: such a barn will last at least 30 years and will need only occasional rethatching. In Asia, the structure of air barns is bamboo, a very fast-growing plant that forms a clump of straight and very strong culms.

Tree planting

In many countries where trees are more important than elsewhere simply because they are used by everyone, not only by tobacco farmers, for fuel and as a building material, our members are very active planting trees to be self-sufficient without having to draw from external sources. For those farmers who are on contract, tree-planting is an important part of the contract that they sign with leaf buyers. The ITGA's battle for a truthful portrayal of tobacco-growing related activities, has led the association to produce counter-responses in the form of different types of publications, ranging from studies to issues papers.

Cured by either, air, sun or fire

After being harvested, tobacco is cured (dried) either by air, sun or fire. Curing enhances the flavour of tobacco and increases, by reducing the moisture level of the leaf, its preservability. This way it can be stored for a relatively long time without perishing. Curing requires a source of heat and depending on the curing method used – air-curing, sun-curing, fire-curing or flue-curing – this source may be natural (sun or air) or artificial (fire or smoke). In the latter case, fuel needs to be used. The type of tobacco which is most extensively grown and which requires an external source of energy for curing is Flue-Cured Virginia. Fuels include coal, oil, gas, biomass and wood. The most widely used fuels for curing are coal and gas, although, oil residues from other crops and wood are also popular energy sources.