Supply Chain

Tobacco leaves is the economic basis of BVTE member companies. Tobacco is grown worldwide as an agricultural product.

The cultivation of tobacco is declining overall and is grown on less than one per cent of the world's agricultural land – around 3.6 million hectares worldwide according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

As manufacturers of tobacco and nicotine products, BVTE member companies purchase their tobacco all over the world - including developing and emerging countries. The vast majority of tobacco farms in the supply chain are smallholder family businesses with an average cultivation area of just two hectares. There are tens of thousands of small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. There are also a few large commercial farms in countries such as Mexico, Brazil and the USA. The producers get a part of the tobacco leaves from their own leaf farms, which work directly with the farmers. The other part is sourced from third-party suppliers or wholesalers, who in turn enter into contracts with the farmers.

Many tobacco farmers conclude contracts with buyers which define that the harvest will be purchased in a certain quantity and quality at a predetermined price. Contracts are a good way for tobacco farmers to respond to price fluctuations that can occur when selling on the free market without a contract.

Tobacco is a profitable crop, it thrives well on unfavourable soil conditions and requires less water than other crops. In the vast majority of cases, tobacco is only watered with natural rainfall. The harvested tobacco leaves are not perishable and do not require a cold chain. Thanks to crop rotation as part of good agricultural practice, almost all smallholders also grow other crops, including food crops. Where tobacco is grown, it contributes to securing the economic livelihood and thus the food security of farmers.

Global supply chain graphic


From an environmental perspective, the cultivation of tobacco faces the same problems worldwide as the cultivation of other crops. The loss of biodiversity, ongoing deforestation and land clearance or the deterioration of soil quality are dangers and problems that are not specific to tobacco cultivation, but a challenge for the agricultural sector in general. A comparison shows that tobacco cultivation does not pose a greater ecological threat than the cultivation of other crops (IMC-Report).

Curing and deforestation

The analysis of the tobacco supply chain shows that a significant proportion of greenhouse gases – approximately one third of all emissions – are produced in the area of agricultural cultivation. A significant proportion of this is attributable to the process of drying the tobacco leaves (known as curing). The tobacco industry pays particular attention to this work step, which is the only one specific to the cultivation of tobacco and is an important area in the Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP). With more efficient and gentle curing methods, the construction of energy-efficient or living barns, ongoing reforestation projects and the use of sustainably grown wood, our companies have set themselves specific targets for switching to completely sustainable sources and have already achieved significant improvements.

Water consumption

The tobacco plant consumes water efficiently, relatively resistant to drought and requires less water than many other crops. A large proportion of the tobacco grown is not irrigated. Only around 15% of the world's tobacco production is irrigated and  almost exclusively rain-fed ( ITGA).

Along the tobacco supply chain, 70% of water consumption is accounted for by agricultural cultivation. This is where the greatest potential for savings lies.

BVTE member companies want to use the limited resource of water sustainably and have set themselves reduction targets for water consumption. They are reducing water consumption and increasing the proportion of water recycling in their own production facilities. In order to better understand water consumption in the supply chain, some of the major member companies have already introduced water management procedures in the production chain or are planning to do so. Thanks to their efforts, some of the BVTE companies have made it onto the Water A List" of the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project).


Use of plant protection products in tobacco cultivation

Tobacco is grown as a crop under various climatic conditions and with various agricultural practices. Possible infestation by pests and the responsible use of plant protection products (pesticides) has always been a challenge for tobacco growers, even though the use of pesticides and agrochemicals in tobacco cultivation is generally much lower than for other comparable crops.

Companies in the tobacco industry – including BVTE member companies – use monitoring programmes to regularly check the level of pesticide residues in raw tobacco and tobacco blends. In Germany, tobacco blends of branded cigarettes are analysed for residues of over 300 pesticides every year.

The major tobacco retailers and manufacturers of tobacco products collect their measured data on pesticide residues in raw tobacco in a database. This pesticide database with worldwide data has existed since the 1990s and is updated annually. It provides robust data sets and reflects the decline and positive trend in the use of pesticides in tobacco cultivation.

The agricultural cultivation of tobacco has been supported by CORESTA working groups for decades.


CORESTA is an organisation that deals with scientific and methodological issues relating to tobacco and promotes international cooperation in research on tobacco and its products.

The organisation was founded in France in 1956. CORESTA's members are companies, institutes, laboratories and associations that conduct research and development related to tobacco and its derived products (including new categories such as e-cigarettes), whether in the field of the tobacco plant (agronomy, breeding, phytopathology) or in the fields of product manufacturing, chemistry, metrology or materials (paper, filters, aerosols, etc.).

CORESTA currently has 158 members from over 37 countries and hundreds of experts, including from government organisations, work together in more than 20 working groups. CORESTA organises annual conferences at which they present scientific papers as well as reports and results of studies and surveys.

An important task of CORESTA is the development and standardisation of measurement methods. For this reason, CORESTA is a liaison member of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the European standardisation organisation CEN. Numerous CORESTA members have delegates in national standardisation organisations such as the DIN German Institute for Standardisation.

Sustainable Tobacco Programm (STP) and Good agricultural Practice (GAP)

The activities of BVTE member companies focus on promoting sustainability at the beginning of their supply chain – with in-house programmes and standards, the Good Agricultural Practice Guidelines for the tobacco sector and the industry-wide Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP), which is applied worldwide despite all regional differences in cultivation (see also info box).

Sustainable Tobacco Programm (STP) and Good agricultural Practice (GAP)

BVTE member companies strive for a high level of sustainability, particularly at the beginning of their supply chain. The comprehensive Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP) sets the standards for agricultural practices and environmental management as well as for important social and human rights issues for the entire tobacco industry. The programme is based on the United Nations Guiding Principles (UNGP) for business and human rights and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The industry's major manufacturers (PMI, JTI, BAT, RJ Reynolds, Imperial, Altria and Swedish Match) and a representative group of international suppliers joined forces in 2014 to create and promote minimum standards in tobacco cultivation. Because the programme applies to the entire tobacco industry and not just to individual companies, the leverage effect is much higher and has ensured continuous improvement in the tobacco supply chain ever since.

The STP programme is managed by the independent supply chain management company Intellync and is active in over 52 countries. Intellync collects data from more than 180 tobacco suppliers and 5 million smallholders on over 1,000 sustainability indicators. Specialised auditors work with field technicians and manufacturers in the supply chain to verify the data collected on the farms. The programme is based on comprehensive documentation requirements and annual assessment of suppliers, which are regularly audited by Intellync on site.

An important basis for STP is Good Agricultural Practice (GAP), which was first introduced in 2002. CORESTA, the scientific organisation of the tobacco industry, has published guidelines for tobacco growers and the processing industry with recommendations for "Good  Agricultural Practice". The application of good agricultural practice increases tobacco yields, improves the quality of the leaf and reduces labour, which not only leads to a higher income for growers, but also helps to protect the environment. Tobacco farmers are trained in a range of practices to protect the environment and must follow the Good Agricultural Practices Guide when using fertilisers and pesticides. The guide is regularly updated and improved to take account the feedback from farmers, suppliers and stakeholders and to keep pace with increasingly demanding expectations and technological developments.

Farmers´ working conditions

The livelihood and welfare of farmers are of paramount importance for sustainable tobacco production.

The agricultural sector in general is confronted not only with ecological but also social problems in many countries around the world. Agricultural cultivation is often characterised by migrant and temporary workers, family workers in small-scale farming and a high level of rural poverty, and is therefore susceptible to human rights problems.

Strengthening the rural community and infrastructure, diversifying their income by growing crops that complement tobacco cultivation and improving the quality of life of farmers, their employees and the surrounding communities is therefore an important pillar of sustainability.

Modern slavery

The tobacco industry recognises that it operates in parts of the world where human rights are violated or are at risk and parts of its supply chain are prone to the risk of modern slavery. But our member companies do not tolerate modern slavery – in any form – and are committed to combating it through a range of human rights and anti-child labour initiatives and programmes.

Our member companies are committed to pursuing a consistent, sustainable and continuous approaches to improvement ensuring that unlawful practices do not occur in their operations and supply chain.

All leaf factories and third-party suppliers of large companies must participate in the industry-wide Sustainable Tobacco Programme (STP). The STP is based on international standards such as those of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Attention is being paid to ensure that particularly vulnerable groups in tobacco-growing communities, such as women, young people and the elderly, are also included. In addition to environmental issues, STP also focuses on a wide range of social issues such as human rights criteria, including child and forced labour, health and safety, fair treatment, freedom of association, income, working hours and social benefits, as well as the prevention of debt bondage and indebtedness.

In addition, they have developed in-house programmes and initiatives such as "THRIVE" to gradually improve working conditions.

Our member companies also analyse and document the risks and improvements within their supply chain as part of the Modern Slavery Act. This important law from 2015 serves to combat modern slavery and involves the companies. As part of the reporting requirements of the Modern Slavery Act, our companies document their efforts and publish them annually in reports on their websites.


Child labour

Child labour is not a specific problem in the field of tobacco growing but a general problem in agriculture in many countries around the world.

Child labour is a systemic problem with complex causes and a global challenge across sectors and cultures. Poverty, social instability, low levels of education and awareness, insufficient opportunities for decent work and inadequate social programmes are some of the main factors causing child labour around the world.

Our member companies do not tolerate child labour and are committed to combating it through a range of initiatives and programmes to eliminate child labour in all its forms in their value chain. Tobacco producers, together with other relevant stakeholders, want to play their part in solving this complex problem.

In 2001, the Foundation for the Elimination of Child Labour in Tobacco Growing (ECLT) was founded - a partnership between tobacco growers, leaf suppliers, tobacco manufacturers and organisations to combat child labour. Since 2011, the ECLT Foundation has reached over one million children, farmers and families.

In addition, they have developed their own programmes and initiatives to gradually eliminate child labour, such as ARISE. The STP sustainability programme for tobacco is also based on the relevant core conventions of the International Labour Organization and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

ECLT Foundation

Our member companies support the ECLT Foundation, which specifically combats child labour in tobacco-growing regions, e.g. through access to education and school meals. The ECLT is committed to supporting and promoting the international legal framework on child labour and sustainable development and community-based solutions for children and their families to tackle the root causes of child labour in tobacco growing communities.