Reducing the environmental impact
Curing is a carefully controlled process used to achieve the texture, colour and overall quality of a specific tobacco type.
Different methods are used, often depending on the type of tobacco. For example, Burley tobacco is ‘air cured’, where the tobacco leaf is hung in unheated, ventilated barns to dry naturally until the leaf reaches a light to medium brown colour. For some curing methods additional heat is required for which farmers use fuels.
Not all tobacco farmers need wood for their operations, but where they do we encourage farmers to source it from woodlands grown for fuel supply purposes and to plant trees to supply their own needs. The trees are usually grown alongside tobacco farms as an environmentally sustainable crop.
Our goal is to eliminate the use of unsustainable wood sources by our contracted farmers. Our monitoring of our contracted farmers’ wood use for curing has shown 99% was from sustainable sources for the last three years.
BAT has long recognised the importance of forests in reducing emissions and protecting biodiversity, as well as the importance of forest products in our supply chain. Our Biodiversity Partnership, which ran from 2000 to 2015 with three leading conservation NGOs – Flora & Fauna International, the Tropical Biology Association and Earthwatch – helped us identify key deforestation risks. We developed a comprehensive biodiversity risk and opportunity assessment (BROA) tool through this partnership, alongside detailed guidance to our leaf operations on how to carry out these assessments. With our partners and field technicians, we engaged 4,100 contracted farmers in nine countries to conduct BROAs during the partnership period.
Our afforestation programmes encourage tree planting to provide a sustainable source of wood for farmers who require it for tobacco curing. In Pakistan, we have a long-running afforestation programme, which has seen over 87 million trees planted and is considered to be the largest private afforestation scheme in the country. And in Bangladesh, our Bonayan afforestation programme, which was launched in the 1980s, has distributed more than 109 million free saplings to rural communities.
We also want to eliminate any potential risk of forests being cleared to create farmland to grow tobacco. Before any expansion of farming on new land, we require, through the Sustainable Tobacco Programme, that all contracted farmers conduct a detailed environmental and regulatory evaluation. This process should factor in local legislation, the presence of rare or endangered species.
We are also encouraging some of our contracted farmers to cure their tobacco with appropriate, locally available alternative fuels, such as candlenut shells and rice paddy husks. All fuels have environmental impacts, so we are also evaluating ways to minimise fuel consumption, for example by using innovative designs for curing barns.
Our Biodiversity Partnership helped us identify the use of unsustainable wood fuel for curing tobacco as our most significant deforestation risk. We continue to work with our contracted farmers and third-party suppliers to promote the sustainable use of forest resources. This includes training in forest management, distributing tree saplings for a sustainable source of fuel and helping farmers to switch to locally available alternative fuels. We have already introduced innovative curing technologies, developed by our global leaf agronomy centre, to our contracted farmers in five countries.
In Bangladesh, we have introduced our farmers to more fuel-efficient designs for curing barns. The barn designs are now being adopted by other tobacco farmers in the area. In Brazil, we are partnering with the Environmental Police of Santa Catarina state and Friends of the Native Forest Program. The partnership is aimed at preserving native forests in tobacco-growing areas. It supports financing of legal wood sources to be used for tobacco curing. Over 7,300 farmers were trained on environmental issues and committed to use of legal wood only. Our field technicians and local police continue to monitor the use of legal wood by farmers.