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Natural resources

Ensuring long-term agricultural productivity

Forest and soil health, water availability and quality, and pest control are essential for long-term agricultural productivity.

We are working together with our farmers to help ensure continued access to natural resources for our business and for rural communities.

Preserving natural forests

Loss of natural forests is one of the most significant environmental impacts linked to tobacco growing, due to wood often being used as a fuel in curing processes.

We are helping farmers to preserve natural forests through afforestation programmes, which provide a sustainable source of wood, and by finding locally available, alternative fuels such as rice paddy husks and candlenut shells.

 
 
More than 170 million trees have been planted in the last seven years through our afforestation programmes.
 

We’re also exploring ways to reduce wood fuel consumption by using innovative designs for curing barns. For example, ‘rocket barns’, which we are piloting in Zimbabwe, use up to 50% less fuel than conventional curing barns because their distinctive double chimneys draw air more quickly.

Our goal was to achieve less than 1% use of natural forest for contracted farmers’ curing fuels by end 2015. This target was nearly met with 1.8% of total wood coming from natural forest (2014: 5.2%). Our new goal is to eliminate the use of unsustainable wood sources by our contracted farmers.

Improving soil health

Healthy soil is vital to any farm, and we continue to work on ways to improve soil fertility and stop the erosion of farm land. We provide guidance and techniques for our farmers on preserving soil health, such as crop rotation, mulching, ‘green manure’, irrigation, drainage and the reduced use of pesticides.

Sustaining water

Agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals globally and up to 90% in some developing countries1. With issues such as deforestation and climate change affecting freshwater sources, ensuring the continued availability and quality of freshwater for farming is becoming a major challenge.

While many tobacco crops are rain fed, others, such as those in Pakistan, need irrigation. It is therefore vital that we try to find more sustainable ways for farmers to water their crops while protecting the needs of local communities. We still have much to do in this area and so are starting with assessments of our strategic leaf operations identified as ‘high risk’. This will help us better understand long-term water supply and demand requirements and inform the development of action plans.

Taking action on risks and opportunities

We use a biodiversity risk and opportunity assessment (BROA) tool, developed in conjunction with our former Biodiversity Partnership2, to identify potential issues and impacts in tobacco growing areas.

Using the tool, we conducted assessments in all of our leaf growing operations in 2010. In 2012, we rolled out an updated version of the tool and a second round of assessments was completed in our leaf operations in 2015.

BROA has been recognised by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Business Council for Sustainable Development as an approach that is comprehensive enough to be used by any organisation operating in agricultural areas. As a result, it is now freely available at www.businessandbiodiversity.org .

[1] Data from the United Nations World Water Assessment Programme, www.unesco.org/water/wwap .
[2] From 2001 to 2015, we collaborated with three conservation NGOs – Earthwatch Institute, Fauna & Flora International and the Tropical Biology Association – in the British American Tobacco Biodiversity Partnership. This 15-year partnership concluded at the end of 2015, but its legacy lives on in the projects that continue to thrive and in how it has helped to embed biodiversity management into our business.
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