India is the second producer of tobacco in the world. Plantations are mainly used for bidis and chewing tobacco. Farmers working in bidi (hand-rolled cigarettes) tobacco fields are often seasonal laborers. Laborers get 25% of the tobacco sales, regardless of how much time they have spent working in the fields, and in years of erratic rain, when production is low, their income is very low. In Nipani, almost 70% of tax revenues derive from bidi tobacco. Here, 13 000 ha are cultivated with bidi tobacco and 20 000 people work as bidi rollers, contributing to 20% of India’s bidi tobacco production. In India, some two million people are engaged in leaf collection and 4.4 million people employed directly in bidi rolling.
The informal, cottage-linked nature of this industry prevents workers from being organized in large, powerful unions. In addition, bidi tobacco is not regulated by any governmental institution and prices are controlled only by dealers. For these reasons, bidi tobacco is less remunerative for farmers than the Virginia flue-cured variety, used for cigarettes.
(Rocco Rorandelli | Behind the Smokescreen, PRIVATE 55, pages 54-57)