Farmer's Voice

Misiones: Smuggling of green tobacco leaves into Brazil

es.jpg Spanish version of the document

Foto4.jpgTobacco growers in the Argentine-Brazilian border area are selling their crops to neighboring buyers.  According to sources consulted byPRIMERA EDICION, growers are asking Ar$ 20 per kilo of dry tobacco, but buyers take along recently picked green tobacco leaves, assuming that during the marketing period in the neighboring country the border will be tightly controlled by the military to prevent smuggling.

For some years now, a large part of the Misiones tobacco crop has been smuggled into Brazil.  The porous nature of the Argentine-Brazilian border and the higher prices paid on the other side of the Uruguay River have prompted Misiones farmers to sell their crops for cash.  Usually, smuggling occurs during the tobacco delivery season, from March onwards.  However, for the past two years, black market sales have started earlier in the year.

Economic hardships have forced growers to sell their crops well before harvest time.  Buyers offer a certain price and deliver the cash; when tobacco is ready, they take the product and sell it to manufacturers directly.  Oftentimes, buyers are well-off tobacco growers or business people from neighboring cities who take advantage of growers' difficulties and purchase the tobacco crop for a reduced price, well below the average farm gate price offered by tobacco companies.

During the road blockades in November and December, protesting growers themselves explained the need to sell their crops in advance at Ar$ 10 per kilo, while the previous growing season the price exceeded Ar$ 12.  Local buyers and speculators are outsmarted by Brazilian buyers, who are swarming into the area, loaded with cash, and paying as much as Ar$ 20 per kilo.  Until last year, they came to collect the tobacco when it was ready to be sold, but this year they are taking away tobacco that has been just picked from the fields.

The new approach is a "strategy for buying time", said one grower who sold his crop to a foreign buyer.  "He told me he wanted to take the tobacco now, but it was still planted in the fields.  We harvested the tobacco and the buyer just loaded his truck and sped off", said the grower, surprised.

Other growers reported that the federal government in Brazil seeks to stop the smuggling of tobacco and other products and will send troops to control its borders.  This would happen during the delivery period.  Growers believe that the average price in Misiones will not exceed Ar$ 18.

One of the conditions set by farmers to stop road blockades was to start price negotiations in January. Government authorities said they would conduct a cost study but up to now nobody has spoken about it again and growers are anxious.  Sources in the northern area of the province have said that Brazilian buyers pay for two tobacco grades: fourth grade, at Ar$ 24, and first grade, at Ar$ 30. As the crop is sown earlier in the northern area, tobacco there is already cured and ready for grading.  Buyers just stop by tobacco farms, get 3 to 5 bales, and pay in cash.