To Harvest but Not to Smoke

Author: Knar Babayan

Edition: Agriculture

In Karabakh, tobacco is a new area in agriculture, and, given the good weather conditions, is a very profitable business. However not everything has been going smoothly for the last two years.

Wearing military or athletic pants, a handkerchief, and gloves, women choose a line in a field and start their day harvesting tobacco. The more sensitive ones don medical masks as well. The ripe yellow leaves are collected under the women’s arms to later be bundled and shipped to the “Masis tobacco company" in Martuni and Askeran.

Tobacco farming is still new in many parts of Karabakh. In the past 5 years, it has mostly increased in the Martuni, Martakert, and Askeran regions.

Most tobacco farmers in the area admit that this type of farming can be profitable under certain conditions, but drought and water shortages throughout the region have had a serious negative impact on their crops. Some hesitate to continue farming if water scarcity issues are not solved.

Mira, the village Ashan, is cheerful and resourceful. Her energy and personality help to lift the moods of the other workers.
In the tobacco fields, the majority of workers are women from nearby villages. They do everything except tying and loading the bundles. The work is seasonal, lasting from June to December, and pays 5000 drams ($10) per day.
60-year old Karine would like to make carpets for a living, like her grandmother did. Unfortunately, she must work in the tobacco fields. On breaks, Karine recites classic Armenian poetry for her friends.
The male workers typically bundle the collected tobacco leaves. The job is physically demanding and requires significant skill.
Tobacco leaves carry a unique smell that many workers never quite get used to. The medical masks used by many workers fail to reduce the sharp smell of the leaves. As a result, less and less people on the farms are using them.
Women help men load tobacco leaves to speed up the work day.
Everyone prefers to have lunch in the field. Women sit in front of each other with their meals on their knees, while the men eat separately.
The women in the fields are not officially registered as workers. Consequently, their work harvesting tobacco will not count towards the calculation of their pension.
The drying of tobacco leaves must begin no more than 2 hours after they’ve been picked.
In the tobacco dryer the women around the table sort the already dried tobacco. The women work in open areas that are covered only in cold weather. They confess that this cover is not sufficient, but that they have no alternative.
The women’s work in the field and dryer is not considered dangerous. For the most part, workers even get used to the smell of the leaves.
Once sorted, the bundles of tobacco are sent to Masis Tobacco’s main factory for further processing.

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