History of Tobacco Cultivation in India

Columbus discovered America and tobacco in 1492 in his effort to find a direct sea-route to India, which was at that time the sole supplier of some essential commodities required by European countries. One of the traveling teams that visited South America and India introduced tobacco into India in the year 1508.

Today, tobacco is one of the major commercial crops grown in India. Various types of tobaccos are cultivated in India for use in tobacco products such as Cigarette, Bidi, Cigar, Cheroot, Hookah, Chewing and Snuff etc. Following are the tobacco varieties grown in different parts of the country:

Types of Tobacco - State

  • FCV Tobacco – Andhra Pradesh, Telangana & Karnataka
  • Bidi Tobacco – Gujarat & Nipani area of Karnataka
  • Cigar & Cheroot – Tamil Nadu & West Bengal
  • Hookah Tobacco – Assam, West Bengal, Bihar & UP
  • Chewing & Snuff – Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Bihar, Assam Uttar Pradesh
  • Natu, Burley, Lanka & HDBRG etc. – Andhra Pradesh

Even though the cultivation of tobacco is spread all over the country, the commercial cultivation of tobacco is concentrated in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

Tobacco in India - Highlights

  • India is the 2nd largest tobacco producer with an annual production of around 800 million kgs
  • India is also among the top tobacco exporters with an annual foreign exchange earnings of around Rs.6,000 crores per annum
  • With just 0.24% of arable land under tobacco cultivation, farmers are earning 3 to 4 times the net returns than any other crop
  • Tobacco crop is grown on marginal soils, where no other crop can be grown by farmers
  • Tobacco crop can withstand adverse climatic conditions (dry/wet spells)
  • Tobacco by-products are used for improving the soil fertility when added back to soil
  • Nearly 26 million farmers and farm workers earn their livelihood from tobacco in India
  • In all 45.7 million people are dependent on tobacco for their livelihood
  • Tobacco products contributes Rs.30,000 crores in Government’s Tax revenues
  • Tobacco exports provide a huge opportunity to the Government to increase its foreign exchange earnings

Why we Grow Tobacco and Not Other Crops?

Among cigarette tobacco varieties, the Flue-Cured Virginia (FCV) tobacco is the most dominant variety in India as well as the world. FCV tobacco is grown in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Karnataka, and thrives in soil and climatic conditions that are unsuitable for cultivation of other corps.

FCV Tobacco is planted in poor, marginal soils and, being a hardy, disease resistant crop, grows well in the semi-arid and rain-fed conditions. Even in extremely adverse weather conditions, the crop suffers low fluctuation in yield.

In fact, in a 2006 a report titled “Overcoming Drought: Adaptation Strategies for Andhra Pradesh”, the World Bank favoured a shift in cropping pattern in Andhra Pradesh from rice to less water-intensive crops to decrease vulnerability of crops.

FCV tobacco is highly labour-intensive and generates more man-days of employment per unit of land than alternative crops grown in the region. Whereas FCV Tobacco requires an average of 250 man-days per acre, Cotton, Chilies, Groundnut and Red Gram require only 190, 120, 80 and 45 man-days per acre respectively.

The global demand for tobacco compared to other agri-commodities remains stable. This also ensures steady and remunerative earnings for FCV tobacco farmers in the country. Tobacco is also less perishable than horticulture and poultry products, making it an ideal export commodity. In addition there are well established infrastructural facilities for curing, storing and transporting of the FCV tobacco besides a transparent auction system managed by the Tobacco Board set-up by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India.

There is No Sustainable Alternative To FCV Tobacco

A 2004 study conducted by the Government of India’s Central Tobacco Research Institute (CTRI) has outlined that there is no single crop which is an economically viable alternative to FCV tobacco.

In 2000-01 an over-supply situation had led to the declaration of a crop holiday for FCV Tobacco during which tobacco crop was not planted in Andhra Pradesh. During this crop holiday period, farmers grew alternative crops such as Red Gram, Bengal Gram, Black Gram, Green Gram etc., and in very limited areas with water resources they grew Paddy and Sugarcane.

The 2004 CTRI study on the impact of the crop holiday showed that the value realization from other crops amounted to only Rs 175 crore as against Rs 400 crore from FCV tobacco in the previous year, resulting in a loss of Rs 225 crore to the farming community, this included Rs 72 crore in reduced income due to loss of working man-days.

The feasibility of FCV tobacco can be gauged from the fact that in the succeeding year, farmers reverted to the FCV tobacco crop in four-fifths of the area. Moreover, year after year, farmers produce tobacco in excess of the crop authorized by the Tobacco Board, despite having to pay penalty for excess production. This trend not only reinforces the remunerative nature of the crop but also highlights the problems associated with cultivating and marketing other crops.

Tobacco growers select a crop for cultivation based on their experience and by gauging the crop’s earning potential. FCV Tobacco has withstood the test of time for the farming community and thus they have been growing this crop year after year for many decades now.