About tobacco

The climate conditions in Vietnam are suitable for tobacco cultivation. In many cases, it provides a higher income than any other crop.

The tobacco plant is in the same botanical family as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants. An adaptive species, it can be grown economically from 50° northern to 40° southern latitude. Moreover, it integrates well into environmentally friendly crop rotations, benefitting subsequent crops like maize.

Tobacco types

Normally, a tobacco crop takes 180 days to harvest, and then arable cultivation of other crops such as maize, rice, sesame and sugar cane can take place. In Vietnam, there are three types of tobacco are grown and cultivated, including flue cured virginia (FCV), big trunk, and sun-bear type; in which FCV accounts for 60%-70% of total production. The geographical areas of tobacco cultivation in Vietnam are Cao Bang, Lang Son in the North; Da Nang, Gia Lai, Dak Lak in the Central; Ninh Thuan in highland areas; and Tay Ninh in the South.

Growing

There are around 12,000 tobacco seeds in a gram – it looks rather like powdery instant coffee. The seeds are so small that they have to be nurtured in specially protected seedbeds for 60 days before transplanting to the field. After a couple of weeks, soil is banked up around the seedlings for protection and to let them develop a good root system. Two months later, the flowers and some of the upper leaves are ‘topped’ to concentrate growth in the remaining leaves, like ‘pinching out’ tomatoes. As the plants grow, the farmer provides appropriate nutrition and watches out for pests.

Harvest

In a few countries the crop is mechanically harvested, but more typically the farmer will harvest by hand over two to four months, taking off two to four leaves per plant as they ripen. A typical farmer in Uganda, for example, with two to three hectares of land, will harvest about 15,000 plants of 22 leaves each. These can earn a good income from only a small area of land. We can help by providing seeds, fertiliser and advice on planting, growing, harvesting and curing tobacco and other crops.

Curing

Curing is a carefully controlled process used to achieve the texture, colour and overall quality of a specific tobacco type.

During the cure, leaf starch is converted into sugar, and the tobacco changes colour from green to lemon, to yellow, to orange to brown, like tree leaves in autumn.

There are four main curing methods:

Air-curing:  Air-cured tobacco, such as Burley, is hung in unheated, ventilated barns to dry naturally until the leaf reaches a light to medium brown colour. At this point, there are virtually no sugars left in the leaf.

Flue-curing:  Heat is introduced into a barn via pipes from an exterior furnace, like radiators connected to the central heating system. This controlled heat allows the leaves to turn yellow/orange, at which point they are fixed, containing a high amount of sugar. Virginia tobacco is flue-cured.

Sun-curing:  Leaves are strung out on racks and exposed to the sun for 12 to 30 days. The sun's direct heat fixes the leaves at a yellow to orange colour with a high sugar content.  Oriental is the most prominent of the sun-cured tobaccos.

Fire-curing:  Fire-curing follows the same principle as producing smoked ham. Brushwood is burned under the leaves, drying the tobacco and producing a smoky fragrance. This is mainly used in pipe tobaccos or Fine Cut.

After curing, the farmer grades the leaves into different leaf positions, qualities and colours, packs them into 30-50kg ‘farmer bales’ and takes them to a buying centre or auction for sale.

Leaf processing

After curing, the leaf is processed through a green leaf threshing plant. During threshing, the lamina is separated from the stem and subjected to a series of quality checks to ensure all sand, dust, scraps and foreign matter are removed. During processing, the moisture in the tobacco is brought down to a safe ‘keeping’ level and the processed tobacco is packed into 200kg cardboard boxes for shipping to manufacturing sites.

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