Jochen Weber - Photography |  Photo Documentaries


A Visit to the Tobacco

Photo Documentary on Cigar tobacco cultivation in Brazil



Dedicated to my friend Alvaro Rojas, who always liked to smoke a ‘puro’.

Mumbai, September 9, 2014

Gentlemen! You may smoke.
(King Edward VII)

This photo documentary reports on the tobacco plants and the production of cigars, and is not in any way an advertisement for smoking. The harmful effects of frequent tobacco consumption should not be trivialised!
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The majority of the photographs are taken with the kind permission of the Dannemann Company, São Félix, as well as its subsidiary, Danco, Cruz da Almas (hereinafter Dannemann in short). However, as far as possible, the text has been written objectively and independently. My gratitude to all the participants for their friendly and hospitable support! 
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São Félix

São Félix

A Classification

Tobacco belongs to the genus Solanacea, for e.g. the popular psychoactive plants, Belladonna and Thorn apple (Datura), but also like the more harmless potato, tomato or paprika. It is an annual plant, that is, after maturity the seeds die, and depending on the type, it is between 0.5 and 3 meters high. From among the popular types of tobacco, there are essentially two that are used commercially, namely Virginian tobacco (‘Nicotiana tabacum’) and farm tobacco (‘Nicotiana rustica’). Etymologically speaking, there are various theories on the origin of the word; one widespread theory is that the word tobacco goes back to the Caribbean language and describes originally, not the plant, but a type of pipe (‘tobago’). Nocotine is named after the Frenchman Jean Nicot, who introduced tobacco to France in the sixteenth century, as medicine. The main regions of cultivation worldwide are the East coast of North America, Middle America, Brazil, Argentina, Syria, Palestine, East Africa and the monsoon regions of Asia.


Tobacco fields of a small farmer

A short history
There is no evidence of the origin of tobacco, but it is sure that it involves an American plant and that it was widely present, from Brazil to Canada, even centuries before its ‘discovery’ by Columbus. While the cigar prevailed in Middle and South America, the North American Indians preferred the (Peace-) Pipe. This led to the emergence of different customs among the sailors returning to the European colonial powers: the pipe reached England, the cigar reached Portugal and Spain. The English adventurer and sailor Sir Walter Raleigh founded the North American colony, Virginia, after which the tobacco, produced there, was named.
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"Pfeife"      Tabak

Hint: All small images in this documentary can be enlarged and viewed in a new window by clicking on them.

„The Gods invented the cigar, so that they could gift
themselves the special pleasure of the tobacco flavor.”
(Mayan saying)

Cultivation in Brazil
Brazilian tobacco is much older than the discovery of the Americas. For centuries before, the aborigines had planted, smoked, chewed and inhaled tobacco. The Tupinambá trained the Portuguese in the use of tobacco, which was primarily popular amongst the sailors. From the mid nineteenth century many Europeans came to Bahia for tobacco cultivation in the Recôncavo region – in the world there were few good cultivation areas that stood out like Recôncavo. Here, besides Dannemann, companies like Leite & Alves (‘Talvis’), Tabacos Mata Fina, Menendez Amerino, Damatta among others had their manufacturing plants. In contrast to the otherwise customary single plant plucking, in this region, the leaves are dried on stems by the small farmers, which lends them a special flavour. Also, the conditions outside are ideal. The ground is lightly loamy and sandy, the rain is sufficient and the sun is mild during the period of growth. 
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Wrapper leaf production from the Dannemann Company

The outer tobacco leaf, the wrapper leaf (‘capa’) conveys, through its colour, structure and aroma, the first impression of the quality of a cigar. Therefore, generally, very high demands are put on the wrapper leaf. The Dannemann company produces its own wrapper leaves at the “Fazenda Santo Antônio”, so that it can control and continuously improve the production steps.

Setzlinge der Deckblattproduktion werden einzeln gezogen

Becken mit aufbereitetem Wasser

Setzlinge für die Deckblattproduktion
Irrigation System

Quality and fragrance of a wrapper leaf are in turn, besides the climactic conditions and soil quality, influenced significantly by the quality of water. For this reason, the Dannemann Company puts in a lot of effort into the water treatment right from the beginning: it is purified in three different work steps, freed from chlorine and enriched with missing minerals.

The water supply to the plants is regulated by a sophisticated, computer controlled distribution system, in accordance with the weather conditions, weather forecast, time of the day and size of the plant. High-tech from Israel meets old American crop! Every year kilometers of small canals are dug and pipes laid out. Every plant is looked after in its first five days with a litre of this treated water. Nothing is left to chance!

Einrichtungen zur Wasseraufbereitung    


Taste, flavor, size, colour and structure of a plant are determined by the tobacco seeds, which are sowed in special pots and cared for daily. Dannemann grows its wrapper leaves individually in greenhouses, thereby controlling the conditions 100% and protecting them optimally from pests, extreme weather conditions and fungal attacks.


The growth of the saplings till their replanting takes about 45 days. Thereafter they are about 10 cm tall and transferred to a well-prepared tobacco field. Dannemann buys the tobacco for the filling and binder of its cigars from the small farmers, who are supported and counselled by them. 


The saplings are being prepared for replanting




The future use of the tobacco determines from the beginning, its method of cultivation. A light net protects the wrapper leaf plants from the too direct tropical sunlight (so called ‘tabaco tapado’, ‘covered tobacco’); moreover later, the flowers too are not plucked out – in this way very fine, uniform and smooth leaves are grown.

Before the female workers plant the saplings, they prepare the fields for it: they stretch the net that is to say, they repair it, they plough and fertilize the ground, they dig channels and lay the water pipes; shortly before the planting, the ground is moistened with the help of the irrigation system and then the male workers pierce holes for the individual saplings. With that the different activities between the two genders is strictly separated.

The best time for planting is afternoon, so that the freshly planted saplings are not exposed to the tropical sun for the whole day. The conditioning of the field can thus take place better. The planting happens by hand and at a high speed: the saplings are placed, well better yet, dropped, in front of the holes by the female workers, and then inserted by many nimble hands – women’s work.

„The cigar burns your lips, as once love had done.“
(Charles Bukowski)

Maintenance of the field 

The maintenance of the field takes place continuously in the first few weeks and is performed manually as well as with oxen and plough: prehistoric, but very good for the plants and always effective. This is to prevent the growth of grass between the rows of plants, which would take away the nutrients from the plants; it therefore supplies the small plants a little more of the nutrient-rich soil.





This Brazilian Sumatra tobacco is hence grown under the protective net. From the time they have been planted, the plants mature under the net till their harvest, which is, as a rule, about four months. Each developmental stage of the plant has its own appeal. The (almost) grown plants give an impression of a forest, when one enters the field. When the sun shines in a field, one experiences a beautiful light effect. Within the rows of tobacco prevails a hot, sultry-humid climate. In the backlight, one can see beautifully and clearly, the structure of the tobacco leaf.



Just as with the sowing, the beginning of the harvest is also ‘well-timed’. When it rains no harvesting is done at all. The morning dew should pass, so that the leaves are not too wet, at the same time the tropical sun should not take away too much moisture, otherwise they can become ‘listless’. At best, during harvest, there should be a light, warm and dry wind blowing – and what else? The female workers – harvesting is women’s work, transportation is men’s work – plucking of each individual leaf, as always by hand.

The plucking always occurs ‘in the direction’ of the process of maturity, that is, from down to up! In this connection the specialist says, from middle part, main part and upper part (in Portuguese, it is, livre pé, centro pé e corona). Between the harvests of the various layers of leaves, lie three to eight days respectively. The plants can, in this time, recover and put their energy into the remaining leaves. After the plucking, the female workers place the leaves in a star formation in plastic baskets, so that at the end, they can easily string and hang the leaves up to dry.

In the tobacco field



On the same day the leaves are hung to air-dry. The leaves are already brought to the drying houses during the harvest. The female workers raise them up on a string, so that they do not stick to each other, otherwise they could get mould on them very quickly.

This type of hanging requires a lot of space, which is why the leaves are hung from the ground up to the roof inside a wooden structure. The tobacco leaves then change their chemical properties very quickly. Chlorophyll drains off – that is the green colour quickly becomes yellow and then brown (see below) – in equal parts, protein, sugar and starch. The tobacco matures within four up to six weeks, wherein the water content is reduced from 90% to 25%.



„I drink a lot, I sleep little and smoke one cigar after another.
That is why I am 200% in form.“

(Winston Churchill)

© Copyright: Photos and text: Jochen Weber

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