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SAN LUIS, Cuba — A neighbor lent him a home to dry leaves, and he had slightly fertilizer saved, so he plucked up the braveness to plant. Now, Hirochi Robaina can hardly consider the ensuing miracle.

Robaina, some of the acknowledged tobacco producers in Cuba, marvels as he walks by way of the extraordinary inexperienced of crops which have grown greater than a meter (three toes) excessive within the Pinar del Rio area.

Six months after Hurricane Ian devastated 80% of the area’s tobacco infrastructure, farmers are attempting to recuperate from the catastrophe. And although they’ll produce lower than in previous seasons, they are saying they’ll nonetheless be capable to harvest the leaves for premium hand-rolled cigars, one of many Caribbean nation’s key exports.

“Not a single tobacco home was left standing. There have been no warehouses, there was no tree left,” Robaino informed The Related Press, remembering how the storm left the area on the finish of September. “Every little thing broke and at that second I didn’t consider it was doable to plant.”

Robaina, 46, is inheritor to a grandfather’s property that’s so well-known {that a} cigar model bears his identify: Vegas Robaina. Initially of October, Robaiana was resigned to planting solely beans and greens — one thing, no less than, however a waste for land that may produce a number of the best export tobacco.

However then he modified his thoughts and determined to strive planting tobacco “to keep up the household custom of a century,” he mentioned, displaying his tobacco over two hectares (about 5 acres) — or about 30% of what he had right now in 2022.

Ian’s impression added to an already intense financial disaster in Cuba, the place the Gross Home Product (GDP) dropped 11% in 2020.

Many farmers don’t bear in mind ever having lived by way of the form of destruction introduced by the hurricane. Within the fall, that they had doubted they’d even be capable to plant any tobacco this season. It requires particular care, utility of fertilizers at exact moments, irrigation, fabric to cowl the crops and drying homes for the leaves.

With winds of greater than 200 kilometers per hour (125 miles per hour), Ian crossed the island from south to north to the west, devastating the Pinar del Río area the place 80% of the island’s tobacco is produced together with nearly all of its tobacco for export.

5 individuals in Cuba died total and 30,000 have been evacuated. 1000’s of utility poles fell. Complete communities have been with out electrical energy, water, and telephones for weeks. Rice, corn, candy potato and fruit crops have been destroyed.

Some 10,000 tobacco drying homes have been toppled. About 33,000 tons of saved leaves have been misplaced, in keeping with authorities.

Non-public tobacco producers have been assembly with authorities since final fall to safe commitments for the state to assist settle money owed and pay for supplies to rebuild tobacco drying homes. Assist additionally has come from fellow tobacco producing nations Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, and producers additionally chipped in to assist one another.

Reiniel Rojas, a 33-year-old farmer who has been cultivating premium tobacco for ten years, planted 13 hectares (about 30 acres) round La Coloma because of the truth that he was in a position to end his drying homes.

“The restoration was fast,” Rojas mentioned.

Rojas acquired seeds from a colleague to plant. Robaina acquired 4 chainsaws from producer associates from different nations and his cousin lent him the drying home, whereas he loaned some fertile land to 2 different farmers.

Nature additionally helped by withholding plagues of caterpillars or fungi, so demand for pesticides was low.

A tobacco home prices a producer round $20,000 on the official change price. An excellent harvest, with the fragile work of a complete yr, will pay a farming household as much as $50,000 {dollars}, farmers informed the AP.

The determine is just not small for Cuba, the place a state wage within the metropolis quantities to about $200 a month on the official price within the restricted official economic system, however can be solely about $29 in sensible phrases for many Cubans within the broader, casual economic system.

Enrique Blanco, agricultural director of Tabacuba, a part of the state-owned Cubatabaco firm that regulates and manages tobacco, informed the AP that this yr’s plan for tobacco planting already is right down to about 9,500 hectares (23,000 acres) — down from an initially deliberate 15,000 (37,000).

There shall be some 2,100 hectares (5,200 acres) of premium leaves grown below the duvet of cloth, with which the nation hopes to cowl the approaching export demand, Blanco mentioned.

—— Andrea Rodríguez is on Twitter:

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