Zimbabwe gets its first cigar manufacturer

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Mosi – Oa – Tunya Cigars is Zimbabwe’s first cigar producer, moving into a market niche that will help plug a value-addition gap in the country’s renowned tobacco industry.

The cigar industry is a niche segment within the tobacco products market, which is increasingly viewed as a potential growth driver.

According to global research firm Statista, revenue in the cigars segment should amount to US$17,1 billion this year.

The market is also expected to grow annually by an average 3,7 percent.

Founded in 2019, Mosi-Oa-Tunya Cigars embraces the myth and the legend of the mighty Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia.

After living and working in the United States for 15 years, founder and chief executive Shep Mafundikwa, accompanied by colleague Loy Veal, returned to Zimbabwe to set up the first hand-rolled cigar factory in Zimbabwe.

To learn about the cigar industry, he travelled to Cuba and the Dominican Republic touring cigar factories and identifying expert talent.

The firm has established its factory in Graniteside, which has a production capacity of 3 250 cigars a day.

Mosi-Oa-Tunya chief Mafundikwa, told the Sunday Mail Business that the company’s business model is underpinned by principles of knowledge transfer and value addition.

“One of the pushing points was to have value addition for our tobacco, because currently we are mostly exporting our tobacco in its raw form when we could be adding value to the tobacco.

“And one thing that was clear from the onset of this project was that this was going to be a women-empowerment project. We wanted to employ women in the factory and we recruited from within the community (Sunningdale). We embrace the elevation of livelihoods recognising that women play a pivotal role in the socio- economic growth at both micro and macro levels.”

Mafundikwa said they had to tap into expertise from key cigar markets such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

“Since no one here was doing cigars, we had to go through and start building the factory. What we have done here is that we have replicated a factory that you find in the Dominican Republic or Cuba.

“Initially, I started off with a team from Cuba helping me set up, but for several reasons they had to return to Cuba. I had to travel again to the Dominican Republic to recruit the maestro who is here now who is doing the training.”

The company is confident of strong uptake on the local market, but another key element of the Mosi-Oa-Tunya Cigars business model is its focus on export maximisation.

“We have done our homework locally and we are also looking at the region. Africa itself is a huge market. We are also looking at the global market. So far we have got solid enquiries from Vietnam, Romania, Dubai, and the US; and our aim is to set up Mosi-Oa-Tunya as a home-grown international brand,” said the chief executive.

“We know that there is competition from established companies, but we are sure that with the quality that we have here, we can stand our own and be counted as a cigar brand.”

Mosi-Oa-Tunya’s cigars are produced from Burley tobacco.

Zimbabwe is the largest grower of tobacco on the continent, and the 6th largest grower internationally. The three types of tobacco that have traditionally been grown in the country include Virginia flue-cured, Burley and Oriental tobacco. But over 95 percent tobacco produced in the country is Virginia flue-cured tobacco.

There are also several types of tobacco leaves that are used in the production of cigars, and Mr Mafundikwa said the company is currently piloting projects that should result in the local production of some of these special tobacco types.

The group is forging ahead with the project despite health concerns around tobacco smoking.

Tobacco smoking is typically associated with cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Health experts also say it increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.

“There will always be concerns around smoking, but we are looking at a growing market. In the next three years or so, the market is supposed to grow by 4 percent, which means that there are adults out there who have decided that they want to smoke. And the difference between cigarettes and cigars is that you don’t inhale when you smoke a cigar.”

And Covid-19?

The global health pandemic has disrupted both local and global markets, but also global trade in particular, which has limited companies’ capacity to export.

“In the medium-to-short term, obviously we are going to be affected. This is a global pandemic, which is affecting the whole world. All we can do is sit tight and hope that a solution is found soon so that we can start trading,” said Mafundikwa.