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Tobacco production management in Madagascar

We worked for 5 years in Madagascar on behalf of the Imperial Tobacco Group. We were responsible for the operational management of SOCTAM and SITAM. The role of these two subsidiaries of the group, under Malagasy law, was to supply the tobacco necessary for the SACIMEM: the cigarette factory located in Antsirabé.  SOCTAM is in charge of the production of tobacco when SITAM processes it.


Tobacco production in Madagascar is controlled by the Malagasy Tobacco Office (OFMATA), which annually issues tobacco cultivation permits, controls any tobacco movements and regulates the operation of the tobacco industry. SOCTAM grows tobacco, on its own farms and in collaboration with a network of independent planters. At that time, SOCTAM produced most of the Flue Cured Virginia tobacco and Burley tobacco cultivated in Madagascar. The OFMATA supervised the production of brown tobacco carried out by smallholders.


Malagasy tobacco is grown during the dry season on flooded plains in the Central West of the country. These crops therefore suffer from drought and heat, even with irrigation, which affects the agronomical yields and the quality of the tobacco harvested. However, the cultivation of tobacco was protected by fiscal measures penalizing the importation of cigarettes and the incorporation of imported tobacco into cigarettes sold in Madagascar.

SOCTAM's management of the production of Madagascan tobacco.

SOCTAM produced the tobacco needed for the supply of the Antsirabé cigarette factory. SOCTAM grew Flue Cured Virginia tobacco, burley tobacco and some PX Claro tobacco (a variety similar to dark tobacco). This tobacco was grown on farms managed directly by SOCTAM and through a network of small producers. A few larger planters cultivating farms of several tens of hectares completed this production.

Tobacco production on SOCTAM's farms:

filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-Baibohos Tanetilava
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-Champs FC Amnadroangiso

SOCTAM directly operated 11 farms of 80 to 200 ha located in the Center-West of the island (Manpikony and Bévilany) and in the South-West (Minadrivazo) on which it produced Burley tobacco, Flue Cured Virginia and some dark tobacco (PX Claro variety).


These farms were estates formerly created during the French colonization to supply French cigarette manufacturers with dark tobacco. They are located on plains along rivers (the baibohos). These plains are flooded during the rainy season. It generates the soil fertility through the alluvial deposits. However, it is also at the origin of erosion phenomena that can sweep away large plots located on the banks of watercourses. Large amount of sand can also cover some areas turning them unsuitable for the cultivation.

Tobacco as well as other crops grown on these plains, are therefore grown in the off-season. Seedlings and young plants are raised in nurseries during the end of the rainy season. They are transplanted in fields following the decrease of rivers' level. The plants develop in the dry season by drawing water from the soil. The Harmattan will amplify the effects of the hot and dry conditions in which tobacco must develop. This results in thick leaves reaching maturity with difficulty.


This off-season tobacco production on baibohos soils requires strict respect of a precise timetable for planting in nurseries and transplanting so that the development of plants followed the withdrawal of water. This involved the mechanization of cultivation operations, in particular the preparation of the soil, the application of fertilization and the first weeding.

Because of the dry and the hot climatic conditions, the use of irrigation was essential to ensure the development of plants and maturity of leaves.

filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-labour-Tsiandarafa
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-prépa sol défriche
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-épandage engrais au terraplough_ABS_05_05.J
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-irrigation

The farms therefore had a complete equipment: tractors, motor-pumps and cultivation tools as well as facilities for drying and conditioning the leaves: air-cure barns for burley and dark tobacco, fired-cure barns for the Flue Cured Virginia, fermentation rooms, grading units, manual presses and warehouses.


The farms employed a significant labor force; particularly for the nursery care, the last weeding, the disbudding and clipping of the plants, the harvesting of the leaves and their sorting after curing.


The use of wood for drying the Virginia tobacco motivated the planting of several hundred hectares of eucalyptus to avoid to damage natural forests. Maintenance and R&D works were also undertaken regularly on ovens to improve the performance of the furnaces of the ovens for Virginia Flue Cured in order to reduce the consumption of fuelwood per ton of tobacco.

filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-fours Tanetilava
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-Coupe eucaliptus

In this context, our intervention focused on:


  • The definition and implementation of annual cultivation plans according to the needs of the cigarette factory;


  • The drafting and execution of investment plans and annual budgets;


  • The definition and monitoring of performance indicators. The monitoring and achievements of production costs targets ;


  • The organization and supervision of work and the training of teams. The usage and maintenance of equipment;


  • The supply of the farms with inputs and consumables;


  • The organization and supervision of operations, the training of the teams and more generally the management of Human Resources;


  • The introduction of new agricultural practices, particularly in terms of irrigation;


  • The improvement in the quality of tobacco produced and the regularity and reliability of tobacco leaves' grading;


  • The logistics for the tobacco bales' evacuation to the threshing unit in Mahajanga;


  • The definition and implementation of Social and Environmental Responsibility actions plans.

filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-pépinière tabac burley-Mororano
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-pépinières tabac virginie-Labandikely
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-plantation-Ambessissika
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-ferme Labandikely
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-fours à tabac virginie-Bévilany
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-séchoirs à tabac Burley-Analamitsyvolana
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-récolte taac virginie-tanetilava
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-fours à tabac virginie-Labandikely
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-pente tabac PX Claro
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-manoquage tabac virginie-Ambessissika
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-stock manoques-Labandikely
filière tabac madagascar-Fermes SOCTAM-jeunes plants tabac burley-Mororano

The development of Malagasy tobacco production through smallholders:

Production tabac madagascar-producteur de Tsaramandroso
Production tabac madagascar -transport tabac

SOCTAM developed the production of Flue Cured Virginia tobacco and particulalrly of Burley tobacco by farmers through a network of "Semi Industrial Planters" (PSI) linked to SOCTAM. These producers cultivated tobacco on their own plots or on plots made available by SOCTAM within its farms. These plots couldn't benefit from irrigation, except for a manual watering just after planting. They were therefore very dependent on climatic conditions. The scheduled for the soil preparation and for transplantation was critical and conditioned the success of the crop.


We organized support for these producers:


  • At the beginning of the campaign, a team of technicians listed the farmers interested in tobacco production and the surface they intended to grow. Cultivation contracts were signed between SOCTAM and each of these producers. These contracts guaranteed to producers that SOCTAM would buy all of their production at a price known from the start of the crop. In exchange, the farmer committed to respect the recommended agricultural practices and to sell all of its production to SOCTAM;


  • SOCTAM then organized the supply of these producers with certified seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and small equipment (tarpaulins for nurseries and driers, mini-pots for nurseries, watering cans, etc.);


  • Throughout the campaign, training sessions were organized on technical issues and technicians monitored the implementation of cultural operations.


  • Depending on the evolution of the crop, cash advances were granted to allow the recruitment of laborers for harvesting and post-harvest operations.

Production tabac madagascar-suivi technique planteur
Production tabac madagascar-labour parcelle
Production tabac madagascar-pépinières
Production tabac madagascar-champ de tabac burley
Production tabac madagascar-Séchoir tabac Burley
Production tabac madagascar-four paysan à tabac virginie
Production tabac madagascar-manoques burley
Production tabac madagascar-récolte tabac burley

Tobacco preparation by SITAM:

Second stage in the Malagasy tobacco production

SITAM is also a subsidiary of the Imperial Tobacco group in Madagascar. Sister of SOCTAM, she is also based in Mahajanga where its tobacco threshing unit is installed.


With the agreement of the OFMATA, SITAM buys tobacco produced by SOCTAM on its farms or collected from independent producers. SITAM stores the tobacco in its warehouses and prepares them for their utilization in the cigarette factories of Antsirabé. This preparation consists of:


  • the grading by quality of the tobacco leaves collected;

  • the separation of the stems and the strips (the parenchyma of the leaves);

  • the drying of the stems and strips to allow their storage over a long period;

  • their conditioning into C48 cardboxes.

Tobacco leaves' grading and re-grading:

The tobacco leaves are sent by SOCTAM, assembled into "manoques" and packaged in bales wrapped in hessian. On arrival at SITAM in Mahajanga, the bales are stored by farms or producers.


Like any agricultural product, tobacco is a raw material with a great variability in quality from one area to another, from one year to another, from one producer to another and even from one leaf stage to another. To reflect this diversity and to value as much as possible the work of producers, tobacco leaves are purchased according to a grid with many purchasing grades. An OFMATA’s officer made the grading of each bale of tobacco. This grading takes place concomitantly with the purchase process by SITAM.


These purchasing grades are too numerous for industrial processing. Their number shall be reduced to facilitate the utilization of the tobacco in cigarette making process and to ultimately obtain a product that offers stable sensations to consumers. Therefore, several purchasing grades with similar characteristics has been combined into industrial grades. This re-grading operation is carried out, bale to bale, internally by SITAM.


At the end of these operations, the tobacco bales are stored by grade until their processing.

Filière tabac Madagascar-Agréage tabacs
Filière tabac Madagascar-réagréage tabacs

Tobacco blending:

Once again, to reduce the variability of tobacco and to facilitate its utilization in cigarette making process, the industrial grades are blend to constitute pre-blends. The SITAM’s Blends Manager carries out this assembly, according to SACIMEM’s cigarettes specifications (or customer’s requests in the case of export sales), to stocks available and to the organoleptic characteristics (such as nicotine and sugar content, acidity...).


This assembly determines the number of bales of each grade per batch and the rate of introduction of the tobacco on the threshing line.


Blending is the first of the tobacco preparation operations.

Filière tabac Madagascar-intro manoques

Tobacco threshing:

The preparation of tobacco consists, schematically, in the separation of the stems from the parenchyma (strips) of the leaves, which are used separately in cigarette making process.

The SITAM preparation process was as follows:


  • Manual introduction of tobacco leaves, "manoque" by "manoque";



  • Opening of the "manoques" and humidification of tobacco leaves to allow their handling without breaking them;



  • Manual picking to remove moldy leaves, off grades tobacco and foreign bodies;



  • Threshing: SITAM had a 4-stage threshing line equipped with horizontal threshing units. At that stage, stems and strips are separated. The objective is to obtain the largest strips as possible and the highest strip rate as possible.



  • Redrying strips and stems separately. This operation makes possible the storage the tobacco over a long period while limiting the oxidation phenomena.



  • Packaging in 220 kg cardboxes. SITAM had hydraulic presses allowing packaging in C48 boxes meeting international standards.


As part of our intervention, we supervised the final assembly of the machines of the new threshing line that replaces the old redrying unit in manoque. We drafted the operational procedures, organized and trained the teams.


We ensured the operational management of this industrial unit for 5 years:


  • Definition and execution of investment plans and operating budgets;

  • Establishment and supervision of production planning and organization of maintenance operations;

  • Management of the shipments of finished products;

  • Administrative and financial management of the subsidiary;

  • Human Resource Management ;

  • Obtaining ISO 14001 certification.

Filière tabac Madagascar-ligne battage
Filière tabac Madagascar-sortie vibrant batteuse.jpg
Filière tabac Madagascar-intro tabacs
Filière tabac Madagascar-préparation tranches
Filière tabac Madagascar-picking
Filière tabac Madagascar-ligne picking
Filière tabac Madagascar-carton sortie presse
Filière tabac Madagascar-laboratoire qualité
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