Tobacco production: Beating the average global yield

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimated that nearly 3.9 million hectares of land throughout the world were under tobacco cultivation during the year 2009. Global production of the crop exceeded 7.1 million tons at the same time. Tobacco production of the world is largely dominated by China, Brazil, India and the United States.

Pakistan is home to a number of varieties of tobacco namely Flue Cured Virginia, Light Air Cured, Light Sun Cured, Dark Air Cured, Semi Oriental and Dark Sun Cured. FAO figures stated that tobacco was cultivated on nearly 50,000 hectares in the year 2009.

Flue Cured Virginia

Flue-Cured Virginia Tobacco

Pakistan’s aggregate tobacco production during the same year was nearly 105,000 tons. Initially tobacco production in Pakistan was restricted to a few low quality indigenous varieties and the cigarette industry of Pakistan relied almost exclusively on imports for better quality tobacco.

The establishment of the Pakistan Tobacco Board in 1968 was a significant development for Pakistan’s tobacco production. Firstly, the board along with other major stakeholders has successfully overseen the modernisation of tobacco farming in Pakistan through rigorous research, advocacy and extension services.

Pakistan’s total tobacco production stood at 86,930 tons in the year 1972 and has since registered an increase of around 21%. The increase in production is substantial considering the area under tobacco cultivation has decreased from 50,604 Ha in 1972 to 49,676 Ha in 2009.

Thus the increase in production can almost exclusively be attributed to the increase in the yield of tobacco crop from 17,178 Hg/Ha (hectogram per hectare) to 21,136 Hg/Ha which is higher than the world average (18,556Hg/Ha) and compares favorably with leading world players. Tobacco is one of the few crops of Pakistan yielding more than the world average.

Secondly, the Pakistan tobacco board in collaboration with major tobacco manufacturers set up research centres in different parts of the country to explore the potential of high quality tobacco cultivation.

Concerted research efforts bore fruit and Pakistan was able to expand the production of the high quality Flu Cured Virginia (FCV) tobacco which is primarily used for cigarette manufacturing.

The successful expansion of FCV cultivation has been the most critical achievement of the research and development activities undertaken by the Pakistan Tobacco Board. At the time of independence, Pakistan produced negligible quantities of the FCV.

Today, however, FCV varieties account for more than two thirds of the country’s total tobacco produce. The transformation of Pakistan’s tobacco cultivation in terms of both quality and quantity is evident from the fact that having started as a net importer of tobacco, Pakistan earned $5.68 million through tobacco exports during the year 2008.

The production of tobacco and particularly the high quality FCV is largely concentrated in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province due to the fact that certain areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are naturally endowed with climate suitable for cultivation of high quality tobacco.

The province is home to more than 60% of the total area under tobacco cultivation and accounts for around 80% of the country’s total tobacco production, followed by Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh.

Concerted research efforts through collaboration of different stakeholders have enabled tobacco producers to harness the potential offered by the naturally endowed lands of KP.

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