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A tobacco farmer in Pinar del Rio harvests his crop. (amnh.org)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, 31 January 2018 — The first 20 tobacco drying chambers that will use renewable energy in Cuba are being built in the area of Vueltabajo, Pinar del Río, where 65% of the leaf produced on the island is harvested.

With Spanish technology, the curing facilities will work with biomass instead of diesel, which will considerably lower the production costs of the Virginia blond tobacco variety, which consumes “tens of thousands of liters” of expensive diesel, the state newspaper Granma reported Wednesday.

The first half of the chambers should be ready by February and the remaining ten will be finished in March.

These drying houses will work with steam from boilers fed with sawdust, rice husks and wood chips from nearby sawmills and mills, although on exceptional occasions they may use diesel and liquefied gas.

The Virginia tobacco leaves dried by this process will be sent to a cigarette factory that is being built in the Mariel Special Development Zone, Cuba’s flagship project to attract foreign capital.

In Vueltabajo there are now 370 acres planted with Virginia tobacco, a figure that the farmers of Pinar del Rio hope to raise to nearly 1,000 in the coming seasons.

Unlike the black tobacco leaf — raw material for the famous Havana cigars — that dries naturally, the blond leaf needs these chambers to eliminate moisture, fix the color and develop the right amounts of sugar and nitrogen required to acquire its characteristic flavor.

Tobacco is the fourth highest contributor to Cuban’s gross domestic product of Cuba; in 2016 it fetched some 445 million dollars as a result of the sales of the Cuban-Spanish joint venture Habanos.

The central territories of Sancti Spíritus and Villa Clara also have large tobacco plantings.

In 2018 the Cuban tobacco growers hope to deliver more than 32,000 tons of tobacco leaves to the cigarette and cigar industry, although the intense rains of recent months have damaged some 1500 planted acres and caused delays in the growing season, with the planting period extended to February.

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