Habanos Blessed by the Land
Blessed by the Land
When you open a Habanos box the first thing your eyes gaze at is the suit of Habanos. If there is glossiness, good aroma, and even color, it is hard not to fall for its charm. Then, the way is paved for deluxe wisps that every demanding smoker tastes, sniffs, and certainly shows off.
The magnificence of these Habanos that travel the world, proud of being Cuban — the world's most famous land on tobacco production — is due to a large extent to the “Lázaro Pena” Tobacco Collection and Benefits Company. Near the Ariguanabo watershed, where very fertile lands add a special touch to the aromatic taste of the tobacco leaf, you can find this tobacco powerhouse, whose social task is to produce more than 60% of the export wrappers used in the production of Habanos in Cuba.
Its areas are Protected Designation of Origin, a sort of special geographical indication that generally consists of a traditional name or designation used for products with specific qualities and features attributed mainly to the natural environment where they are harvested.
This quality is endorsed by the Regulatory Council for the Protected Designation of Origin for Habanos, which attests a series of guarantees required internationally to market and maintain the excellence of Habanos in the Greatest of Antilles, whose seal of quality excels common standards for highly appreciated reasons; for instance, all the production processes are actually natural.
Although the goal of the aforementioned company implies tireless effort, the organizational culture gained for more than 40 years has made it the leader of export wrappers in Cuba. Of its 2,000-plus hectares of arable lands, nearly 700 are devoted to export wrappers annually.
"Channeling all reserves, both objective and subjective, has been pivotal to grow every year and do so with optimal quality standards", says Inés María Hernández, an engineer in farming mechanization, who's at the helm of the upgrading and marketing division at the Lazaro Peña enterprise. Her 26 years of experience in the company, embracing responsibilities such as presiding over a Basic Unit of Cooperative Production (UBPC) and having led different processes, among them the curing of tobacco, crop agro-technique, and the improvement activity, empower her to know where the entity potential and challenges are.
“We lead the staff towards what we want corporately. You have to treat tobacco with love. Otherwise we can forget about the possibility of harvesting with the desired quality.”
She also explains that quality is guaranteed if there is no violation of any procedure in the different cultural activities the crop requires, along with other processes such as improvement and fermentation. The latter, when carried out in a controlled way, helps to homogenize the mat or leaf, and thus allows to obtain more than twelve types of exports, which are differentiated by the mat characteristics and the leaves size.
“This year, and for some time now, we have been leading the production of dark wrapper. We have gotten almost 30 tons
of that variety to date. With this wrapper, different high-demanding markets opened for us and we can make now new vitolas marked by ripe wrappers and limited editions that are very well priced.”
TENDERNESS MAKES THE LEAF LOOK BEAUTIFUL
An almost mystical touch is given to Habanos thanks to the effort of nearly 850 women working on the export wrapper improvement in this company. Francisco Lam González, a man who has dedicated his life to tobacco since he graduated as agronomist, ratifies it. He strongly believes that the expertise on this crop is given by the practice on the field.
This thin and easygoing man of Chinese descent, was born more than 60 years ago in Pinar del Río — the land with the largest tobacco culture in the country. He takes the agricultural responsibility at the “Lázaro Pena” Tobacco Collection and Benefits Company.
We talked with him about pests and diseases and how to prevent them, about the effort it takes to put so many hectares of tobacco under cloth and how deep it is necessary to dig to put up the poles in the ground, the trees that must be sown to have those poles and the necessary cujes (rods) for the different processes the crop demands.
"The specialization of more than 1,000 tobacco growers; having all the productive management models — Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCS), Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPA), and UBPC — are strengths in our daily work. We have also created a communion of interests. We need to be partners targeting a common goal. We need to have a sense of belonging that encourages us, and we basically need to take on responsibility. In this regard, we also need to bring added value of infinite economic and spiritual scope for all those working on an activity as challenging as tobacco production.
“In addition to this, we take absolutely care of soil management. Soils are rich in organic matter, but every two years we do agrochemical analysis at the Tobacco Research Institute (IIT) and according to the diagnosis, we provide the appropriate nutritional treatment.
"We are extremely careful with crop rotation programs for soil improvement. We sow green manures. We achieve optimal soil ripping. We correct the PH every time it is required. If the land is taken care of, it is kind to the tobacco growers.”
Trickle irrigation is used in all “Lázaro Peña” tobacco plantations. With this water-saving system — the most efficient for irrigating
— the leaf is fertilized and protected by not being directly showered by water. Here, the very efficient root ball technique — in addition to achieving uniformity, when it comes to transplantation the root remains intact and the seedling is not stressed — helps us obtain the total of sprouts.
According to Lam, the company is leader in innovation. Having IIT just five miles away is actually fundamental, especially when synergies of work are excellent.
SCIENCE WHERE IT MATTERS THE MOST
The IIT is one of those facilities that you feel beforehand that order and good energies reign there. Its surrounding fields, cleanliness, and aesthetics support that view. But when you talk to researchers and workers of any status, your ideas come true.
It was founded on December 23rd, 1985. Its researches are carried out according to the interests of tobacco growers, maintaining the quality that makes the best tobacco in the world different.
The facility is located in Artemisa and has experimental stations in the central and western regions of Cuba. Its task, consisting of carrying out scientific researches, deploy technologies, productions, and specialized services throughout the tobacco production chain in Cuba, has been efficiently undertaken.
Assistant researcher Yatelier Hernández Santana, director of the Research Base Business Unit, while referring to the IIT achievements, praised the collaboration with other research institutions in the country such as the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, the Plant Health Research Institute, the Soil Institute, and the Irrigation Institute, among others.
She recalls that the researches carried out in the center are mainly related to the genetic improvement of three types of tobacco grown in the country (Negro, Virginia, and Burley), as well as aspects related to crop agro-technique. The institute maintains its membership with CORESTA running, an organization that gathers the main tobacco producing countries and companies around the world.
HABANOS AWARD: EXCEPTIONAL PERSONALITIES
No los considero fuera de serie porque sean catalogados Hombres Habanos, creo que son fuera de serie porque, tanto Armando Trujillo González como Jesús Aurelio Reyes Santiesteban, viven para el trabajo con una devoción singular. No por gusto son Héroes del Trabajo de la República de Cuba. No en vano son tan respetados en sus respectivas cooperativas y dondequiera que sus nombren se alcen.
I do not believe they are exceptional because they were bestowed the Habanos Men award. I think they are exceptional because, both Armando Trujillo González and Jesús Aurelio Reyes Santiesteban, live to work with a singular devotion. That is why both are Work Heroes of the Republic of Cuba. In fact, they are well respected in their respective cooperatives and wherever their names come up.
Armando Trujillo heads the UBPC “Felipe Herrera,” in Alquízar municipality, Artemisa. He is also deputy to the National Assembly of the People's Power where he is member of the Agrifood Commission.
Armando loves discipline and demands it. He makes the most of his day so that his cooperative continues to show the good results it has been achieving for years. You do not have to ask about his partners' earnings: their smiles, hands, and the tobacco plantations where they work boast profits, performance, and quality, with no figures popping up.
You can certainly learn a lot about tobacco with him. We asked him to put on a hat for the photo and he said: "You will see why I am without it." Then, within the beautiful plantation, with 60-plus days after planting, he pointed out that if I were taller and fatter, he would not allow me to entering the plantation as he needed to avoid everything that may ruin the leaves for the export wrapper.
When he was a kid, so that his father let him drive the piccolino (garden tractor) he worked with, he accompanied him to visit the strawberry fields his old man worked on weekends. And so he embraced the land and managed to study agricultural engineering.
“No technology works without a welltrained and disciplined man. Having good
results is not matter of one day. What matter the most is the resistance. Here in tobacco, a bad decision may throw away all the sacrifice of a campaign. We are talking about 539 steps or cultural attention that a crop like this demands. Tobacco is a delicacy since you envisage its sowing until after you smoke it,” warns this man who leads 340 cooperative members and manages, like jack of all trades, 95 hectares.
Armando only misses work when he gets sick and he never gets sick — he claims. Being a Habano Man is a commitment to leadership. It is living to work and "never of fame and glory as both are vanities that vanish, while work is always there waiting for you."
The second of these valuable men is a whirlwind of good ideas although he seemed physically exhausted. Nothing escapes from his memory. We talked about the modern world and his answers were so clear and strong that it seemed incredible that Jesus Aurelio was nearly 80 years old.
After traveling for nearly 7 miles from home to work, he arrives in the UBPC “Batalla de las Guásimas” at 06:15 am, where he has been acting as president for decades. This entity is the largest producer of export sheets in the country: it sows 101 hectares and produces almost 200 tons of tobacco, 50 of them correspond to the aforementioned wrapper applied to the Habanos you enjoy worldwide.
“This year will be very productive for the UBPC in all lines: tobacco, various crops, meat, and milk. We must make additional efforts as weather is getting more and more adverse. You have to be very proactive and be ready to face any challenge ahead. We must be clever so that this cooperative may maintain its steady positive results.”
Jesús Aurelio attributes his cooperative achievements to the discipline with which his 350 workers embrace processes. “They are not wage-workers. They have a sense of belonging. They are specialized in tasks that go from throwing a seed in the root ball to working in the Escogida (sorting) process.
We have the Escogida process that allows us to have a balanced workforce, which has an average of 15-20 years working in the cooperative. We enjoy the privilege of closing the entire productive cycle,” says this man who was bestowed as Habano Man in 2002, but he could be nominated as distinguished man on many fronts.
Jesús Aurelio has worked in tobacco since he was 7. His father, a tobacco grower native from Pinar del Río, taught him the secrets of the aromatic leaf and above all, he taught him there is nothing more important than discipline and determination.
To the most veteran of Habanos Men, Armando is like a son. When they have had the opportunity to represent Cuba in an international event, the youngest is responsible for the technology so it might not represent a handicap for the man he regards as Master and friend he would never compete against. Instead, he learned from him the arduous and complex world of tobacco: a universe full of magical things that only hard work is capable of holding up, even when climate change is real as well as all crisis converging in this modern world, where excellent ideas may come up to meet any challenge while smoking a Habano.
THERE IS NO MAGIC IN WORKING WITH TOBACCO OTHER THAN CONSISTENCY AND DISCIPLINE
Jesús Aurelio has been working in the tobacco industry since he was seven years old.
For Armando Trujillo, being a Habano man is a commitment to leadership.