Saturday, December 4

The tobacco growers of Ávila, about to disappear: “People no longer smoke Ducados”

In the 1960s, the Candeleda City Council, in Ávila, decided between installing a bullring or a tobacco processing center. The neighbors, practically without debate, chose tobacco. The cultivation of this plant was basic for the municipality and for the entire area of ​​the Tiétar Valley for more than a century. For many of them it was extra money. It was very common for them to have another job and cultivate the plant, in a task in which the whole family participated. It was even very usual to negotiate with the bank directly the collection of the payment letters to defray the letters of the loans.

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“It had been cultivated for more than a century, but it was in the seventies when it reached its peak. In those years we became about 600 farmers,” says Félix Plaza, president of the Association of Tobacco Growers of Ávila. Now there are only 25 left and the number drops from year to year. Plaza, who is 69, has retired in 2021, and assumes that many others will follow. “In five years we will all have disappeared,” he says.

There are few tobacco growers from Avila and they produce little. Around 0.64% of all tobacco in Spain, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture in 2013. Now, the tobacco growers estimate that the figures are much lower: they send about 120,000 kilos of blond tobacco (or Virginia) and 100,000 of black (or Burley) to be processed. Forty years ago they cultivated ten times more: 1,200,000 kilos between the municipality of Candeleda and other towns in the Tiétar Valley. “It is a very good land and the environmental conditions are extraordinary. Here you can cultivate everything. Even illegal things if you wanted,” laughs Plaza.

The 1970s were good for the Spanish tobacco industry, and therefore for the tobacco growers of Ávila. In those years you could smoke in the doctor’s office, on trains and on airplanes. President Adolfo Suárez was ventilating two packs of Ducados a day. Reports linking smoking to lung cancer, or coronary heart disease, although they already existed, received little attention.

In those years, mostly black tobacco was smoked. In 1981, 70% of the tobacco consumed in Spain was black, and 30% blond. Since then the trend has been reversed. “Now people no longer smoke Ducados”, summarizes Félix Plaza. In Ávila the predominant crop was black, although the two varieties coexisted.

Today it continues to happen, because all the tobacco that is sold, even the blond one, has something of a mixture. “The burley gives fluffiness and allows it to burn. I have made cigars from my virginia tobacco, which has an extraordinary aroma, but I have to be giving it fire all the time,” says accomplice Nazario Morcuende, one of the producers with more hectares of all of Candeleda. Morcuende is in love with tobacco. Although he is aware that it is bad for his health, he has a special link with cultivation: his father and grandfather also lived on him. “It’s better not to smoke,” he says sincerely. This year, for the second time in his life, he has diversified and has opted for peppers to make paprika. He believes that he may end up leaving the family farm if the situation does not change.

According to data from the farmers themselves, they are being paid 1.6 euros per kilo for black and 2.3 euros for blonde. They recognize that the price is not bad, but they report that they are getting more and more problems. Its cultivation is very controlled in terms of residues and phytosanitary remains. Much more than that of other plantations for human consumption, according to criticism. Added to this is the little support from the Junta de Castilla y León. “I’m not going to ask Carnero [consejero de Agricultura de Castilla y León] that encourages the consumption of tobacco, but things can be done as the Junta de Extremadura is doing “, explains Morcuende, who is also a member of the agrarian organization UCCL. Everything that is grown in Ávila is processed in the neighboring community, Extremadura. , in the factory that the semi-public company Cetarsa ​​has in Talayuela (Cáceres).

Lack of support from the Junta de Castilla y León

Although Castilla y León distributes agri-environmental aid to sugar beet, the tobacco growers are not that lucky. Through this European mechanism, the Board grants direct economic aid per hectare for organic production to various agricultural or livestock farms. But tobacco is excluded. “They don’t give us anything. We don’t go in, so we’re completely marginalized compared to other plantations,” Morcuende points out. Just 3 kilometers from Candeleda, already in the other community, the Junta de Extremadura, does grant between 700 and 800 euros per hectare in agri-environmental aid, figures similar to those that Castilla y León does give to beet growers.

The reform of the CAP, the Community Agrarian Policy of the European Union, which has been working on in recent years, could be the lifeline for the few tobacco growers left in Ávila. Despite its proximity to Extremadura, Candeleda was left outside the Extremadura tobacco region for the EU. “It is the opposite of what happens with the paprika from La Vera, which can be grown here because we border on them. Not with tobacco. They have painted an imaginary line in a natural region and that affects us a lot”, explain the tobacco growers In order to survive with their cultivation, they claim that, when the tobacco region is updated in the CAP, Candeleda enters it, for that, political will is key.

“I know that we are a cursed product. They limit it more and more, but as long as its consumption is not prohibited, national production allows families to make a living from it. If not, there will be more and more smuggled tobacco”, Plaza sentence, President of the Avila tobacco growers. According to the employer’s calculations, 10.3% of the Spanish cigarette market is contraband. This same year in Valladolid an illegal cigarette factory was dismantled, with the capacity to produce 180,000 packs a day.

For Morcuende, the debate on tobacco production must be seen from another prism, such as the contribution that cultivation can have to fix population. “People do not stay in the villages because there are services, they stay if there is work. And we, like the rest of the farmers, contribute to it.” The farmer is aware of the difference between his crop and the rest, so nor does it seek explicit support. “I don’t want them to defend my crop, but I don’t want them to massacre it either. We all know that sugar is terrible, but the institutions support it because it employs many people in Castilla y León.” Now, they criticize , they put sticks in their wheels. “The Junta is hurting me a lot. We ask that you make a request to the Ministry so that, in the new PAC, we become part of the tobacco region next to Extremadura. And from there we Leave. We will defend ourselves. ”

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