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The Tobacco Board

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Tobacco Production in Mauritius


An old map of Mauritius drawn and used by the Dutch

It was in 1639 that tobacco was first introduced in Mauritius by the Dutch Governor, Adriaan Van Der Stel – the same year as sugarcane was introduced.

Tobacco leaves were sold to vessels calling at Port North West, now Port Louis. Tobacco assumed some importance because of the good price it was fetching at the Cape of Good Hope. However, with the cultivation of tobacco in the Cape, the production in Mauritius decreased gradually and stopped when the Dutch left the island in 1710.

There are no records of cultivation of tobacco during the French occupation of the island from 1721 to 1810.

Early attempts by the British since 1810 to establish tobacco was not successful because of the laws levying a tax on land planted with tobacco.

Growing of tobacco was, however, again started with the coming of the Indian immigrants towards the middle of the 19th century, mostly for their own consumption.

In 1917 the first successful attempt to create a tobacco industry was made. In that year, on the initiative of the then Governor, Sir Hesketh Bell, the Department of Agriculture under the administration of Dr H.A. Tempany (later Sir Harold) started experiments with “Tabac bleu”, a variety from Reunion Island. Around 1924, the Department of Agriculture started experimentation on other types of tobacco, and by the end of 1925, there were 250 acres under cultivation.

In 1926, the British American Tobacco Company (BAT) opened a cigarette factory in Port Louis. It also conducted experiments on production of flue-cured tobacco. The results of the experiments from both the Department of Agriculture and BAT were very encouraging. The Chamber of Agriculture consequently showed great interest in tobacco cultivation.

By the end of that year, the acreage under tobacco cultivation increased to 800 acres. In the same year, a separate Tobacco Division was created in the Department of Agriculture and placed under Mr G. Corbett, the Tobacco Officer. The Division was assigned 20 acres of land at Beau Bassin, (now Barkly Experiment Station) for experimental and seed production purposes.

In 1927, expansion and development of the industry continued and the acreage planted rose to 2,000 acres with 41 flue-curing barns in operation. Local manufacturers purchased 320,000 kg of leaf from planters for about Rs 500,000. The marked growth of the tobacco industry was welcomed as there was financial stringency owing to a low price of sugar. Government imposed an excise tax of Rs 1.00 per kilogramme of tobacco manufactured.

With the continued development of the industry, a serious problem arose – production was greater than consumption.

Attention was directed towards the possibility of an export market for surplus leaf. Leaf samples were sent to London and an exhibit of Mauritius tobacco was arranged at the Tobacco Exhibition of April 1927.

A Government Grading Warehouse to grade leaf for export was established. However, efforts to export leaf were not successful as the tobacco produced was of an inferior quality.

Consequently, in 1928, Government appointed the Tobacco Industry Committee to examine the position and report thereon. Mr. Corbett was sent to South Africa to study the working of Tobacco Warehouses there.

On his return, he recommended:

    1.     Improvement of leaf

    2.     Control of production

    3.     Stabilization of the market by establishment of a central Warehouse

    4.     Compulsory sale of all leaf to the Warehouse

These recommendations were endorsed by the Tobacco Industry Committee. Government gave effect to them by passing the Tobacco Production and Marketing Ordinance No. 38 of 1930. This Ordinance, which came into force in 1932, entailed the setting-up of the Tobacco Board, in which is vested the control of production and sale of leaf tobacco in Mauritius. The Government Tobacco Warehouse was at the same time established.

The Tobacco Board was originally constituted of 7 members as follows:

q       The Director of Agriculture – Chairman

q       The Commissioner of Excise – Vice-Chairman

q       The Government Tobacco Officer

q       Two representatives of Manufacturers

q       Two representatives of growers

 

The Board started operations with two advances from Government, one of Rs 64,000 for machinery and equipment and another of Rs 100,000 as working capital. The Warehouse comprising five departments (i.e. Receiving, Grading, Baling, Stores/Sales and Administration) was located in Line Barracks. It was first managed by the Government Tobacco Officer but on Mr. Corbett’s transfer to Cyprus in 1946, the Board appointed Mr. P. Dupavillon as Manager.

The Board controlled the production of leaf tobacco through the annual allocation of quotas to registered producers and offered an advisory service through its Inspectorate / Extension Branch.

Previous to 1932, excise tax on tobacco was assessed on leaf. All leaf purchased by the Manufacturers was then stored at the Tobacco Board Warehouse pending payment of excise tax.

In 1934, the Tobacco Board engaged the services of a Tobacco Breeding Officer, Mr W.E. Freeman, who spent three years on selection of Amarello strains giving high yield and uniformity of type. Amarello was then the only commercial variety grown.

Amarello air-cured plantation

 

In 1939, the Government established a Tobacco Research Station at Richelieu to continue the research work started at Barkly Experiment Station. The Station was first managed by Mr Corbett and the Board since then has been making an annual grant towards the upkeep of the Station. Attention was given to more agronomic aspects – finding the proper time of planting, fertilizer trials and selection and breeding of new varieties with resistance to Black Shank disease.

In 1940, some Virginian varieties were released for cultivation.

The Tobacco Board was re-constituted as a corporate body by Ordinance No. 13 of 1943, which also increased its membership to 8 members and extended its powers.

The Board was thus composed of:

  • The Director of Agriculture – Chairman
  • The Commissioner of Excise – Vice-Chairman
  • The Accountant General
  • The Government Tobacco Officer
  • Two representatives of growers
  • One representative of Manufacturers
  • One representative of consumers

 

 

In 1953, the Board decided to build a new Warehouse and Office at Plaine Lauzun. The total cost amounted to Rs 1.5 million. The foundation stone was laid by Sir Hilary Blood on 7th September 1953 and the new building was inaugurated by Sir Robert Scott on 15th June 1955.

Tobacco Board complex in 1955

In the mid-fifties, a variety of Yellow Mammoth resistant to Black Shank was obtained. Experiments were also done on curing of tobacco using various sources of fuel, e.g. wood, oil and gas. These experiments were conducted by Mr. Suzor assisted by Messrs Choolun and Doomun. Oil curing was found to be the best method. 

In 1959, another cigarette factory, the Amalgamated Tobacco Corporation (ATC), started operations.

 In 1962, the Tobacco Board together with 13 other companies formed the Mauritius Employers Federation.

In 1968, a vacuum Fumigation Plant for fumigating baled leaf tobacco with methyl bromide gas was installed.

In the late sixties, a very good variety of flue-cured, NC95, was released for cultivation.

The stores where flue-cured leaf was kept were air-conditioned to reduce the risk of damage by the tobacco beetle – Lasioderma serricorne – as the latter is unable to breed under low temperature. The use of insecticides for control of the pest was thus reduced.

In 1971, Mr. H. Choolun was appointed as General Manager following the retirement of Mr. P. Dupavillion after a very long and successful career at the Tobacco Board.

In 1972, the Tobacco Board was reconstituted by an amendment of the Tobacco Production and Marketing Act, which further increased the membership to 14 members and provision was made for the Minister to approve the Conditions of Service of Officers.

In the same year, a third cigarette factory was opened.

In the seventies, the Board closely followed the experiments conducted by Messrs P. Oogarah and N. Govinden at the Richelieu Experiment Station. The trials included variety trials, fertilizer experiments, topping trials, seed bed treatment / seed rate experiments and control of budworm – Heliothis spp. Seed production is also exclusively carried out at the Research Station.

In 1975, cyclone Gervaise damaged the main Warehouse building. An important stock of leaf tobacco was also damaged. Leaf tobacco had consequently to be imported.

In the same year, a new one-storey store was put up and the ground floor was air-conditioned.

In 1977, P. Oogarah was appointed as General Manager after the retirement of Mr. H. Choolun.

In the late seventies, owing to an important increase in demand for flue-cured tobacco, steps were taken by the Board to increase the production of flue-cured.

In 1979, the first bulk curer imported by Brizmohun Brothers was demonstrated to growers.

In the same year, the Board purchased a new Redrying Plant (make Quester) and a new steam boiler to cope with the increase in production.

 

Feeding the Quester Redrying plant 

The old Proctor Redrying Plant purchased in 1932 is still in operation.

Loading sticks with tobacco leaves for the Proctor Redrying plant

In 1980, ATC (M’tius) Ltd ceased operations and its assets were acquired by BAT (M’tius) Ltd.

In 1981, the metal roof of the Receiving and Bulking section was replaced by a concrete slab roof.

New permits were issued and a study was undertaken to identify the constraints in the production of flue-cured tobacco. Consequently, remedial measures were quickly applied. Record productions of 1,060 metric tons and 1,100 metric tons were obtained from the 1980/81 and 1981/82 crops respectively. The average yield per arpent increased from 500 kg per arpent (1,250 kg per hectare) to 700 kg per arpent (1,750 kg per hectare).

In 1983, a new Bulking Room was put up and in 1985 the metal roof of the grading section was replaced by concrete slab roof.

In 1985, the Tobacco Board was again reconstituted by an amendment of the Tobacco Production and Marketing Act.

In 1986, a new Hydraulic Press was acquired to replace the old press and in 1989, a new Electronic Scale for weighing leaf tobacco from producers was bought.

In 1990, a sophisticated Moisture Analyzer giving instant readings of moisture content of leaf tobacco was purchased.

In that same year, the metal roof of stores 1-4 was replaced by a concrete slab roof whereas fumigation with methyl bromide was stopped and replaced by fumigation with phostoxin at quarterly intervals on contract basis. A new Steam Boiler was also purchased in that year in order to replace the one that had been in use for the past 30 years.

During the early 1990’s, Plant Position Grading and chemical control of suckers were introduced and experiments on mechanisation of certain field operations were also conducted. The experimental work at Richelieu Experiment Station was, in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, conducted by Scientific Officer, Mr. H. Ramahotar.

In 1992 the Tobacco Board celebrated its Diamond Jubilee by a series of events. A commemorative plaque was unveiled on that occasion by Hon. M. Dulloo, then Minister of Agriculture.

In that same year the Tobacco Board purchased a new Steam Boiler and the computerisation of the Tobacco Board activities was also started.

In March 1995, Mr. H. Ramahotar was appointed General Manager in replacement of Mr. P. Oogarah who left for the Farmers Service Corporation.  Mr. R. Gooriah joined as Secretary of the Board in September.

In the same year, the first edition of the Best Growers Award function was held

 and 1st prizes for crop 1994/95 were awarded to:

  •     Mr. T. Sooknah, for flue-cured, and 
  •     Mr. D. Jeeana, for Air-Cured tobacco

 

During that function, the then Minister of Agriculture, Hon. K. Ruhee, also unveiled a new logo for the Tobacco Board.

 

In 1996, the Tobacco Board engaged the services of Mt André Lim, a productivity consultant from Singapore to review the operations of the Warehouse. In that same year, a Tobacco Improvement Programme was set-up with a budget of Rs 3.46 Mn, financed by BAT (M’tius) PLC. in order to improve the yield and quality of local leaf tobacco.

Minister Boolell & Junior Minister Boojeenauth with the 1995/96 winners

In 1997, the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit of the Food and Agricultural Research Council took over tobacco research with Mr. P. Hanoomanjee conducting the research work. Tobacco seed production remained under the responsibility of the Agricultural services.

As from January 1998 and up to June 2001 the Tobacco Board was also empowered to concur with the sale prices of locally manufactured cigarettes.

In April 1998, the renovated Administration Block was inaugurated by the then Minister of Agriculture, Hon. A. Boolell.

As from September 1998, the Tobacco Board took over the licensing of imports of tobacco products from the Import Control Section of the Ministry of Commerce.

In June 2000, the computerisation project was extended to cover all operations through a Local Area Network.

In August 2001, the Tobacco Board set up a Task Force to identify and analyse the threats and constraints facing the local tobacco industry. The recommendations of which formed the main Tobacco input of the Non Sugar Sector Strategic Plan on Agriculture released by Government in March 2003.

Moreover, with some leaf stores becoming redundant, the Tobacco Production and Marketing Act was amended in order to allow the Board to rent these stores and derive alternative source of revenue for the Board, which was functioning as a self-financing body.

A Training Scheme for Growers in the Maintenance of Oil-fired Burners, with the assistance of the Industrial & Vocational Training Board, was also set up.

In November 2003, the official website of the Tobacco Board was officially launched by the then Minister of Agriculture, Hon. P. K. Jugnauth.

In December 2004, the Tobacco Board participated in the Agricultural Expo organised by the Ministry of Agriculture at the SSR Botanical Garden.

In that same year further amendment to the Tobacco Production and Marketing Act was made to provide for a Warehouse Fund and a General Fund for the Board’s financial transactions.

As from July 2005, the Tobacco Board’s regulatory powers were further enhanced so as to also classify cigarettes destined for sale on the local market into different categories.

In 2006, the Tobacco Board put up a Medium Term Strategic Plan aiming at increasing the productivity of growers to boost up production so as to meet demand for local leaf.

The Tobacco Board attaches great importance to the technical assistance given to the 294 registered growers. Officers of its Inspectorate department visit the growers and their plantations regularly and provide them with technical advice to enhance yield and quality. 

The whole crop is used in the manufacture of cigarettes for the domestic market.

The Board also provides interest-free credit facilities for the purchase of fertilisers and chemicals, and interest-free loan facilities for the repair of barns and sheds.

Seeds of recommended varieties are distributed free of charge to all registered growers.

Field training and research are carried out at all times in collaboration with Research Scientists from the Agricultural Research & Extension Unit but before the introduction of new technologies. There are also special small-scale multipurpose farm mechanisation and curing projects, looking at ways of reducing costs and maintaining quality.

 

Presently the flue-cured variety planted on a commercial basis is RG13 while the air-cured variety is still Amarello.

 

RG 13 tobacco plant


 

 

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