british american tobacco p.l.c. sustainability report 2009 - Brazil's leaf research and technology


As state and academic funding for tobacco leaf research around the world declines, the need for in-house research capability increases. British American Tobacco’s Leaf Research and Technology team was formed in Rio de Janeiro in 1974 and is now part of our Regional Product Centre. The team works with our plant breeding facility, which was set up to develop commercial hybrid seeds. These units provide farmers who supply us with leaf with guidance on agronomy practices, alternative fuels, irrigation and mechanisation, agrochemical use, integrated pest management and curing methods.

The work of the Leaf Research and Technology team includes studies on the sustainability of tobacco agronomy and the development of leaf varieties which deliver greater yields, quality and disease resistance. Some of its achievements in 2009 are outlined below.

Solar assisted curing

For the last three years, the team has researched opportunities to reduce the amount of firewood used in curing by using solar heat collectors on curing barns. The research has achieved average reductions of over 15 per cent, indicating considerable potential reductions in wood used for curing once the technology is commercialised. The next step is to incorporate a liquid-based heat exchanger to further increase efficiency. Alternatives to wood have also been tested, including sugar cane and coffee husks. Currently, the costs of these fuels are prohibitive but the team will continue to explore other options.

Drip irrigation

The team has also researched drip irrigation, which uses around 30 per cent less water and has other benefits such as reduced soil erosion and salination, lower energy consumption and increased yields.

The team used drip irrigation on two research crops, collaborating with a specialist international business. It now includes guidance on the system in its package of technologies for farmers, including on how to use one drip tube for two lines of plants to keep costs affordable.

The team is now investigating ways to improve water supply management with ferti-irrigation - the efficient application of fertiliser through irrigation water, which reduces manual labour.

Initiatives such as these help to reduce energy and water consumption in our supply chain and, by optimising farmers’ processes, support the sustainable supply of high quality leaf to our business.