Tobacco Production In Nicaragua
By the time Spanish conquistadors arrived in Nicaragua in 1519, the local natives had already been cultivating tobacco for ages. The tobacco they were growing was referred to as “Chilcagre tobacco” (black tobacco).
Fast forward a few centuries to the 1940’s and this tobacco was being planted in the regions of Condega and Estelí. Virginia and Burley tobacco were also being cultivated around this time, but primarily for cigarette production.
In the late 1950s and into the 60s, many Cuban cigar families who fled from the Castro regime began searching for new soil that could successfully grow premium tobacco like in Cuba.
In Nicaragua, they found just that.
Fleeing Cuban cigar families sought after soil that was comparable to the lush Pinar del Rio region of Cuba
Anastasio Somoza, the Nicaraguan dictator of the time, decided to finance the many Cubans families who arrived to ‘plant the seeds’ to build a new cigar industry within Nicaragua.
Dictator Anastasio Somoza
In 1963, under a program called ‘The Habano Tobacco Program’, the first plantings of Cuban seed began in the town of Jalapa.
Among those in the program included Cuban expats Angel Oliva, Sixto Placencia and Generoso Eiroia among others.
After a failed first attempt with an inaugural cigar company called The Central American Corporation Of Tobacco, a second company was established in Condega called Nicaragua Cigars which was associated with tobacco that was being grown by José Orlando Padrón.
Though this second factory operated for about three years and closed down for unknown reasons, this key period marked the successful beginning of growing tobacco with Cuban seed in Nicaragua for the production of cigars.
Like many others, Simón Comacho and Juan Francisco Bermejo fled their native Cuba and sought opportunity in nearby Nicaragua.
In 1968 the two men established The Nicaraguan Cigar Company. In partnering with dictator Somoza (who had personal investments in multiple tobacco projects), they gained access to the deep and rich soil of Estelí, Condega and Jalapa for tobacco, and established facilities in Central Estelí where it could all be processed.
Today, the company is known as Joya de Nicaragua.
In 1979, a civil war and resultant Sandinista uprising destroyed much of the Nicaraguan tobacco industry, including the factories of Joya de Nicaragua and Arturo Fuente.
Much like in Cuba, in 1980 the Nicaraguan tobacco industry became nationalized under the Sandinistas – and much like in Cuba, this resulted in a US-imposed embargo with Nicaragua.
Sandanista Guerillas in 1979
For much of the 1980s, civil war and political turmoil largely hampered the Nicaraguan tobacco industry. Wages fell while subpar quality cigars piled up until the embargo was lifted by the US and a new government finally replaced the Sandinistas in 1990s.
This saw the cigar families get their businesses back, and thus began a reconstruction of the Nicaraguan tobacco industry.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated much of the land in Nicaragua, which meant reconstruction time – once again.
Ultimately, this setback was also overcome, and the resilient Nicaraguan cigar industry became poised to grow and finally witness its true potential.
The weather in Nicaragua and the mineral content to its soil are very similar to Cuba, which makes it ideal for tobacco growing. The cultivation of tobacco leaf in Nicaragua takes place in four main areas: Estelí, Condega, Jalapa and to a lesser extent, Ometepe, which is an island in Lake Nicaragua.
Placencia tobacco fields in Estelí
Nicaraguan tobacco has a reputation for being very strong and spicy.
Each region produces both Cuban and Connecticut seed tobaccos that exhibit their own unique characteristics.
Of the four regions, Estelí, which is situated near the capital of Managua, produces a very strong, thick tobacco leaf. This is due to the powerful abundance of sun and the dense, black, nutrient-rich volcanic soil that exists there. In Estelí, wrapper leaf is grown in fields under cheesecloth-covered nets to protect the leaf from the powerful sun. Unlike its wrapper leaf, Estelí ‘Ligero’ filler and binder leaf are grown under direct sunlight.
To many, Estelí rivals – or is even seen as superior than – the famed Vuelta Abajo of Cuba as the best tobacco growing region in the world.
Of the three remaining Nicaraguan tobacco regions, Condega produces a leaf with a thinner texture than Estelí, and has a characteristic medium strength sweetness.
The Jalapa Valley is located near neighboring country of Honduras, and produces a spicy, highly aromatic leaf that is ideal to be applied as a wrapper.
Ometepe is a volcanic island that produces a sweet wrapper that exhibits lots of chocolate and pepper. Successful tobacco cultivation there was first initiated by Nestor Placencia in 1996.