11 September 2020
Climate Change: How is it Affecting Cuban Cigars?
Cuban cigars are consistently ranked at the top of many cigar aficionado’s favourites lists. However, the very real threat of global warming is having an affect on the Cuban cigar industry. Here are some of the effects being felt by Cuban plantations.
Back in 2015, the El Niño season led to an intense period of drought in Cuba; the worst seen in the country for over a century. Following this, the opposite weather hit hard in the winter, with heavy rain hitting what is normally the dry season. Tobacco plants are incredibly delicate, which leaves them vulnerable to harsh, and unpredictable weather conditions. These heavy rains during the 2015-2016 harvest left many plantations with far less usable produce. In an attempt to salvage the harvest, many farmers planted new tobacco plants out of season. However, for many, the damage had already been done.
Somewhat inopportunely, this occurred around the same time that travel bans were being lifted between Cuba and the United States. This increased demand for the famous cigars, putting further strain on the farmers and their ruined crops.
What happens to the tobacco in these conditions?
Tobacco needs a lot of sunlight during the day in order to reach its full growth potential. Normally, the weather conditions make the soil in Cuba absolutely prime for crop growth. However, the periods of drought and heavy rainfall brought on by climate change has severely impacted the soil quality; drying it out and then turning it into sludge. The rain also rots the tobacco plants, meaning that they cannot be used to form the cigars.
San Juan y Martínez and San Luis produce eighty-six percent of the tobacco used for Havana cigars, meaning that when these areas become badly affected by the weather conditions, these cigar types are at risk of falling into danger. It is clear that reducing the speed of global warming is essential in order to preserve the quality tobacco needed to ensure the continuation of the cigar industry.
A recent study analysing the effects of climate change on tobacco growing in Cuba predicted that the industry would be safe enough over the next few decades. However, they conclude that as global warming increases, crop yields are almost certain to decline. The effects are already starting to be seen on a number of plantations, with the conditions becoming unsustainable for the production of the delicate tobacco leaf. As Cuba’s third-biggest import, keeping these tobacco plantations alive is a must for the farmers, and for the economy as a whole.
What is being done in Cuba?
Due to the ever-present threat of climate change, new types of tobacco plantations have been cropping up in Cuba. Local growers, who live in the Guamuhaya mountains, innovated a new facility in which to grow the plant. Built almost entirely of bricks to enhance the humidity, the buildings have turbines to heat the plants when the weather is making it cooler. These human-controlled conditions mean that the tobacco is grown and kept in the environment needed for optimum quality. Facilities like these may be what the future holds for many growers who are being damaged by the changing climes.