Tobacco Farming and Curing in Nicaragua

I spent an afternoon on a local tobacco farm, during harvest, here in Esteli, Nicaragua. While I’m not a proponent of smoking, nonetheless tobacco farming and cigar manufacturing are major enterprises here, and are worthy of investigation. Esteli creates a major part of the cigars manufactured in the world, and grows a rich variety of its own quality cuban-seed tobaccos.

It’s interesting to note the similarities between cigar making and coffee production, both of which are major enterprises in this area. Listening to someone talk about the creation of a cigar–the different types, qualities, and flavors of tobacco leaves; the effects of the sun and different soils and micro-climates; and the combination of different tobaccos to create a cigar–often sounds similar to listening to an expert talk about coffee production and preparation.

Some interesting facts about tobacco production here in Nicaragua:

You’ll see in the photos the massive, wooden galerones, built from scrap wood, that rise up from the ground in sets of 2-4 per tobacco farm. During the different harvests (tobacco leaves are harvested in 3-5 different cuttings, from the bottom of the plant upwards), the harvesters pick the mature leaves by hand, and pile them on their arm. These stacks of leaves are then transferred to wagons, which bring the leaves to the barn. Inside the barn, workers tie the leaves in sets of 4, which are draped over a stick in sets of a dozen. These sticks (“cujes”) are then handed up to men in the rafters of the galerone, who hang them.

This turns into a mind boggling set of statistics:

4 leaves x 12 sets=1 cuja with 48 leaves
Each worker strings around 5,000 cujas per day
The cujas are hung 8 levels high in the galerone
The galerone holds 50,000 cujes
The end result: 2,400,000 tobacco leaves dry for 2 months in the galerone.

Multiply this by 3 galerones=7,200,000 tobacco leaves per crop

Multiply this by 2 crops per year at this farm=14,400,000 tobacco leaves

Each galerone holds 400 quintales (a quintal is 100 lbs) of tobacco=40,000 lbs of tobacco per galerone per crop.

Each worker earns between $3-4/day for their labor.

A note on process: While I love the black and white images in this series, many of these images are wonderful in color as well.  And, of course, there are far more quality images than I could post here.

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  • March 12, 2010 - 7:06 pm

    Stacee Taft - Wow! I never knew tobacco could be beautiful… excellent work!

  • March 26, 2010 - 9:48 am

    Jake Adams - All I have to say is thanks…

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