Zim explores alternatives to flue-cured Virginia tobacco

Source: Zim explores alternatives to flue-cured Virginia tobacco | The Herald August 4, 2016

Small-scale tobacco farmers in the Burma Valley embarked on a cigar wrapper tobacco project this season. Cigar wrapper is tobacco leaf used as the outermost covering of a cigar, surrounding the binder. This comes at a time when there is a shortage of cigar wrapper quality tobacco worldwide consequently pushing the prices up. The development makes Zimbabwe the third African country after Cameroon and Kenya to produce the high fetching cigar wrapper tobacco.Von Eicken, a Germany company which manufactures and markets cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, and pipe tobacco is doing this pilot with the small-scale farmers in the Burma valley and in partnership with the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) which registered the farmers at no cost as well as the Tobacco Research Board (TRB) which availed seed to the farmers for free.

The cigar wrapper tobacco was sold through decentralised contract sales, with the last one for the season having been held last Thursday at Mapetu Farm in Burma Valley. Having the classification and arbitration done at a central point at Mapetu Farm made it easier and cheaper for growers who brought the produce to a nearby farm where the selling process was conducted and money was transferred into growers’ bank accounts.

This season having been a success for the cigar wrapper farmers in a number of ways, the contractor intends to increase the hectares from eight to twenty next season, and in so doing rope in more small scale farmers. TIMB is also targeting cigar wrapper tobacco farmers for of drip irrigation equipment.

In order to encourage the growth of cigar wrapper farming, loans that had been extended to cigar wrapper farmers will not be rolled over into the next season, for those that failed to service them as cigar wrapper farmers were no spared by the El Nino weather phenomena. This season will therefore be treated as a learning exercise.

Relatively a few tobacco leaves can be used as wrappers as they need to meet several quality requirements such as being nearly flawless and uniform in colour.

To promote the production of the dark air-cured wrapper, the contractor bought low-end crop in order to benefit the farmers. This low-end crop can be used as binders, which is tobacco leaf that holds the filler together in a cigar and gives the cigar its shape. Quality that does not meet the standard for cigars can also be used to make dark air-cured cigarettes and dark air-cured rollers whilst greens will be used to blend, although in very small percentages.

Cigar wrapper tobacco falls under the family of dark air-cured tobaccos, whilst Virginia, what is mainly grown in Zimbabwe, is flue-cured.

Like flue-cured or Virginia,cigar wrapper tobacco does well in sandy loam soils where most grain crops would require a lot of fertilizers thereby it is not a threat to the production of cereal crops.

Another striking distinction between the dark-air cured Cuba Brazilian (CUBRA) tobacco and flue-cured or Virginia tobacco is that whilst the market for flue-cured Virginia tobacco requires heavy bodied leaf, cigar wrapper should be thin, ironed, smooth and straight leaf without blemish.

When the leaf is too thick, the wrapper does not burn easily.

The air-cured top quality leaf is generally grown under shade cloth although in certain areas it can be grown in open fields.

Premium leaf for the cigar wrapper should be uniform in colour, varying from very light typical of wrapper produced in the US under heavy thick shade cloth all the way to the Maduro which is ripe and very dark coloured cigar wrapper produced in Brazil and Colombia.

After the farmers have produced the leaf, they grade it and iron it before delivering it to the market, where the merchants stake the tobacco and continuously turn the stakes in a fermentation process that takes eight months before the tobacco is properly mature. Subsequently, the tobacco is regraded and separated into the wrappers, the binders and fillers.

The aforementioned processes are done on site at Mapetu Farm in Burma valley before the tobacco is exported to Germany where cigars are rolled, graded, packed into boxes and shipped to tobacconists and ultimately to the consumers. Cigar wrapper is hand-graded so that when the consumer gets his box of cigars, the colours in the box are more or less uniform.

The demand for the cigar wrapper tobacco is high and the major determinant for the future of cigar wrapper tobacco production in Zimbabwe is quality.

For flue-cured Virginia, 190,8 million kg have been sold with farmers earning $560,8 million. The season is coming to an end tomorrow, Friday August 5.

Farmers are encouraged to make their last bookings today for the final sales at the auction floors tomorrow failure of which, they will get a chance to do so during the clean-up planned for August 23.

For additional Information contact TIMB on: 0772145166 /9 or 0279-22082 /21982 or 025-3439 or 067-24268 /29246 or 0277-2700 or 064-7280 or 0271-6772 or Toll Free Number 0731999999 or E-mail: [email protected]