The entryway to the Robaina farm leads visitors to the family’s premium tobacco growing operation.
While the storm wasn’t as bad as it could have been, tropical storm Laura caused some damage in Vuelta Abajo, a significant growing zone in western Cuba’s Pinar del Río province known for producing some of the island’s best premium tobacco. There was no tobacco in the fields, so next year’s crop was not harmed, but the storm has added to the economic misery and uncertainty in Cuba caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Hirochi Robaina, the owner of the Cuchillas de Barbacoa tobacco farm in Vuelta Abajo’s San Luís district, the tropical storm force winds blew the roof off one of his three tobacco barns and damaged its walls. The storm also ripped cloth and plastic coverings for the greenhouses where young tobacco seedlings are planted before being transplanted to the fields.
“I don’t have wood sheets to repair the walls. I don’t have nails. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Robaina said. The curing barns won’t be needed until late-January or February, but nonetheless, he is concerned about the period leading up to the harvest.
He added that another serious aftermath of the storm, however, is that many of the food crops in his fields were virtually wiped out by the high winds. Cubans in rural areas rely on those crops for their own consumption, but also to deliver to markets in the cities.
Robaina says that as of Wednesday afternoon, he still had not been in contact with some of the other top growers in the region, but he suspects most suffered the same kind of minor damage he did. He added that there was already a shortage of resources for the upcoming growing season, so he expects the storm will just make it more difficult for the growers to get the necessary supplies, such as fertilizers and fuel, for planting. And now, he says, they will have to scramble for materials to repair damage to their farms.
So far, efforts to contact some of the other growers in the region have been unsuccessful.
For the moment, Robaina is still planning on planting seeds in the greenhouse seed trays on September 21 or 22 and hopes that the hurricane season is winding down. “If the wind is out of the north on those dates, it will be a good season. If not, and it’s out of the south, it will be a disaster,” Robaina warned.