Greening tobacco growing

2017-06-10 06:45


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Tobacco production supports the livelihoods of thousands of small-scale farmers in some of the poorest African countries, making it vital to ensure that the process is as environmentally sustainable as possible. 

Because the tobacco industry purchases most of its tobacco supplies from small-hold farmers, improving the sustainability of tobacco farming means assisting these farmers by providing support, advice and information on how to improve farming methods and protect the environment.

Many farmers can benefit from advice not only on how to improve soil conservation and fertility, manage water usage and recycle waste, but also how to manage fuel sources sustainably. 

Helping farmers to adopt extensive Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) such as effective farming techniques; safe storage and use of crop protection agents; water and waste management; and energy efficiency can help them establish a consistent source of income, while simultaneously reducing the impact on the environment. 

Tobacco production, as with many other agricultural crops, is a resource-intensive process.  Tobacco growing, harvesting and curing can account for approximately 40% of carbon emitted in the cigarette supply chain, out of which more than half comes from the fuels used to cure certain types of tobacco. 

For this reason, tobacco companies such as Philip Morris International (PMI) are also focusing on making the curing process greener

Some types of tobacco requires that it be cured in heated barns, which are often made of bricks. Converting conventional curing barns using improved furnace, insulation, chimney and flue modifications helps to reduce the amount of fuel needed to cure tobacco and improves overall energy efficiency. 

PMI is also moving towards more sustainable curing fuel sources and encourages fuel-switching to less polluting fuels such as the use of biomass – wood and crop residues such as nut shells and tree prunings – as an alternative fuel where appropriate.  The potential of new technologies, such as solar energy in curing barns, is also being explored.   

By 2020, the company aims to have zero coal usage for tobacco curing and ensure no deforestation due to the growing and curing of the tobacco purchased.

Tackling the issue of deforestation in Africa though requires a multi-pronged approach.

Apart from improving curing barn design and technologies to make the process more efficient, planting trees to replenish deforested areas;  implementing track and trace systems to ensure traceable sources of wood fuel; as well as assisting farmers to set up small-scale forestry operations are some of the ways companies are combating deforestation to actively reforest areas to replenish stocks. 

In 2015, PMI and its suppliers planted more than 29 million trees and implemented programmes to increase the total fuel consumed for tobacco curing from renewable energy sources.

Further along the supply chain, each factory and facility uses different environmental approaches adapted according to local circumstances.  For example, prioritising water conservation for facilities in water-scarce regions or first investing in renewable energy where it’s available, cost-effective and provides supply security makes sense. 

This integrated approach to greening the tobacco supply chain is bearing fruit. The sustainable use of natural resources has become a top priority for the tobacco industry.

Of more than a thousand of the world’s largest companies assessed in detail by the CPD last year, the emissions from PMI’s own operations were only  700,000 metric tons, well below the average footprint of 5.8 million metric tons. 

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