A Brief History of Cameroon Tobacco
Tobacco in Cameroon was initially cultivated by the Dutch who grew it from Sumatran seeds.
After World War I, France and Great Britain received a split rule to govern over Cameroon, which was previously under German colonial rule. Following WWII, the portion governed by France grew to encompass the majority of Cameroon.
It was the French that first set Cameroon tobacco in motion to be enjoyed on an international level.
The French government established SEITA (Société d’Exploitation Industrielle des Tabacs et des Allumettes), an organization which was responsible for the procurement and and export of Cameroon-grown tobacco.
Among the first major cigar manufacturers to seek out Cameroon tobacco was the J.C. Newman company, based out of Tampa, Florida. After the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba went into effect in 1962, manufacturers like J.C. Newman began running out of their Cuban tobacco reserves, and began to look to places like Cameroon for a suitable replacement.
In an interview with Marvin Shanken of Cigar Aficionado in 1997, Stanford Newman stated “We used the top grades of Cameroon, because I thought that if we had something of quality, we could keep our market. It [Cameroon tobacco] was not exactly a substitute. It had a different taste, but it was a very, very fine wrapper.”
Although the nation of Cameroon gained independence from France in 1960, SEITA maintained strict control of the region’s tobacco production for many years (almost a century in total).
During this time, SEITA implemented a form of greedy price-fixing and a complicated bidding process which sadly served as a deterrent to many global cigar makers like the Newmans from incorporating Cameroon wrappers into their products.
Declining interest resulted in diminishing crop supply and decreased tobacco quality, which ultimately forced SEITA to bring the exportation of Cameroon tobacco to a grinding halt in 1993.
This proved to be unfortunate timing as a global cigar boom was happening – and Cameroon was missing the bus.
With the possibility of Cameroon-grown tobacco becoming extinct, tobacco crop financier Richard “Rick” Meerapfel intervened to rescue the industry.
Based out of Brussels, Belgium, M. Meerapfel & Söhne Co., was among of the oldest tobacco brokerage families in the world. Rick Meerapfel was instrumental in recognizing the quality of properly-grown Cameroon tobacco, as well as its potential to serve as a key component to many wonderful cigar blends.
“I couldn’t just let it go,” Meerapfel once said in an interview. “I had to do something to keep the tobacco going.”
With an influx of millions of dollars invested to resurrect Cameroon tobacco, a new private organization called CETAC (Compagnie d’Exploitation des Tab’s Centrafricains) was established.
CETAC was a joint venture between the Meerapfel family and local Africans that would oversee in the growing, contracting, processing and shipping of high-quality Cameroon tobacco.