Tobacco and Bananas

Date: 1916
Owner: Library of Congress
Source Type: Images


This photograph, taken by the Keystone View Company, depicts three individuals cutting tobacco in the shade of Cuban banana trees. Centuries of tobacco and sugar production in Cuba had resulted in severe soil erosion and exhaustion as acres of groundcover were removed, soil tilled, crops planted, and irrigation canals dug, leaving soil exposed to the harsh sunlight and rainfall and exhausted from the nonstop production of crops. Tobacco was particularly difficult because the leaves required shade from the sun, and farmers had experimented with large scale coverings to protect the fragile crops. With the turn of the twentieth century, however, scientists contracted by U.S. owned companies and by scientific institutions such as the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Chicago Museum of Natural History, advocated crop diversification, that is planting two or more crops together, in order to prevent the worst effects of production. One of the strategies presented was to plant tobacco plants in with banana trees as the more permanent root system of banana trees held soil in place and the large leaves provided a canopy which shaded the tobacco plants from the harsh tropical sun and rain. The combination of banana and tobacco production significantly reduced erosion and exhaustion, ultimately improving crop yields. As you look at this image, note the proximity of banana trees and tobacco plants, consider how that might affect labor.

CITATION: Cutting Tobacco in the shade of banana trees, Province of Havana, Cuba. 1 Photographic Print on Stereo Card: Stereograph, 1916. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: LC-USZ62-66912. Digital ID, 3b14393