Its founder, Shepherd Mafundikwa, who returned from the United States in early 2020 to start the business, says that they were set on their goals to produce a world class cigar, consolidate their women empowerment model, and for their product to reach all corners of the globe.
Talking of the progress the company has made since they rolled their first cigar in March 2020, he says they were close to producing 1,500 cigars daily and their target was 10% local sales and 90% exports. They have sent some of their stock and samples to Romania, Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, USA, the United Kingdom, Germany, the United Arab Emirates and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mafundikwa says that their first year has been a rollercoaster and that they have focused much of their attention on training. We have successfully managed the skills transferred, we feel proud that our cigars have been accepted at home and abroad.
Mafundikwa does not smoke but got the idea to start the investment after he had a discussion with a friend, While in the United States in 2019. Returning to Zimbabwe months later, he set about turning the discussion into practice. He chose Harare, the capital of Africa’s biggest tobacco growing nation, to set up the project.
The city is also ideal as it sits at the centre of four leaf growing regions. Three auctions and dozens of contract floors where hundreds of thousands of growers yearly sell their crop are situated in the city.
Before building the factory, he travelled to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, not only to learn more about cigar rolling but also to recruit skilled rollers. He returned with several rollers, among them Elias Lopez from the Dominican Republic. Although some soon flew back home, Lopez, a veteran of more than 30 years remained and is head of training. The training targeted women, who Mafundikwa says are good with their hands.
Eight were recruited at first and have recently been joined by two men. Cigar-smoking Lopez has worked in the home country of Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua for Davidoff as well as Arturo Fuente. Most Oa Tunya’s operations have, however, suffered the ravages of Covid-19, with their supply chain and sales adversely affected because of the global restrictions.
We are hoping the covid situation will stabilise, Mafundikwa says, and this will allow us to access more markets. We are going to be aggressively marketing our cigars on the continent. He knows that cigars made in the Americas rule the market in terms of quality, quantity and brand strength. Most Oa Tunya, he insists, will leverage Zimbabwe’s position as Africa’s top leaf producer and among the top six globally.
Zimbabwe is renowned for its high-quality tobacco and we are confident that our cigars can compete with any other cigars in the world. Ninety five percent of the burley tobacco his company rolls is grown locally, 100 percent of the wrapper it uses is imported.
However, the company has teamed up with the Tobacco Research Board to experiment on growing different wrapper varieties in a bid to produce a 100% local cigar in the not too distant future. Mafundikwa says that even before the completion of the experimental production of the wrapper, he believes Zimbabwe has the proper conditions which just need to be managed.
Zimbabwe grew 200 million kilograms of tobacco in 2020, 95% being Virginia flue cured leaf, the remainder being Oriental and burley grown in Burma Valley in eastern Zimbabwe. TRB general manager tells that Burma Valley is good for the cultivation of thin, soft, elastic and supple wrappers that are on demand worldwide. TRB started researching suitable cigar wrapper varieties in the 2017/18 season and expects to register the first batch of cigar wrapper tobacco hybrid in 2023.
The current research efforts are focused on agronomic research and the development of new varieties with improved yields, enhanced foliar-disease resistance as well as excellent cigar wrapper cured leaf and smoking quality.
Research into cigar wrapper varieties is ongoing, but the main thrust on varietal development is centred on developing and releasing varieties that produce a blemish free leaf, good curing and fermentation and acceptable smoking attributes.
The new hybrids were developed/bred to incorporate multi resistance to foliar diseases, producing the much sought after, blemish free cured leaf. Additionally, the cured leaves of these new hybrids have excellent smoking quality and can therefore also be used as fillers in cigars, giving them a dual purpose.
The findings are pleasing. Up to four promising cigar wrapper varieties are producing good leaf yields, good cured quality as well as acceptable smoking quality. Our findings also note that with improved/prolonged fermentation and raging of the leaf, the smoking quality also improves. Zimbabwe has the potential to produce quality cigar wrappers that have acceptable smoking attributes. Above all, the nutty-spicy sweetness of the tobacco makes it perfect.