Last month, the Nicaraguan government introduced a variety of measures related to the cutting and transportation of wood within the country, some of which have already affected the country’s cigar industry.
The restrictions were introduced alongside others to help deal with the country’s current drought. Some estimate the country has lost as much as 60 percent of its surface water and 50 percent of its underground water supply. The two main causes since 2014 have been El Niño—Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the unique weather phenomenon that can cause both floods and drought—and deforestation.
Nicaraguan has banned the cutting and transporting of any tree produced naturally, i.e. those in forests and jungles. The ban currently no longer applies to tree farmers, those who specifically grow wood for harvesting, although when it was first introduced in mid-April those producers were also banned from cutting wood.
This is hardly the first time Nicaragua has implemented such measures and the country also has other restrictions, including a ban on cutting any royal cedar or mahogany, that have carried over from previous efforts. Nicaragua has banned wood production due to other droughts, fires, deforestation concerns and other environmental-related issues over the years.
The country has also implemented other water restrictions including the limiting of showers and continues to encourage tobacco farmers to move to the more efficient drip irrigation systems ahead of the next growing season.
Juan Ignacio Martínez—executive president of Joya de Nicaragua and the head of the Asociación Nicaragüense de Tabacaleros (ANT), the country’s cigar producers organization—told halfwheel the effects of the ban are already being felt by some. Some have reported as much as a 40 percent increase in the cost of wood, but for the most part it appears to be business as usual in Nicaragua.
No cigar manufacturer has told halfwheel the wood ban has resulted in a delay of product. Larger, established box makers in Nicaragua store large amounts of wood in inventory because of better pricing and the time needed to cure the wood. Martínez said that while most box makers are likely not affected in the immediate, some are beginning to increase the importing of okumen and other species of wood from other country.
That being said, some prices of wood will likely rise as the amount of legal varietals decreases.
Nick Perdomo, president and ceo of Perdomo, told halfwheel his company has already begun to look at importing wood from Brazil and Mexico to help mitigate the effects of the ban. Perdomo said his company currently uses about 90 percent Nicaraguan-grown wood with the other 10 percent coming from mainly Spain.
He added that while his box factory maintains roughly a two-year supply of wood, he expects to start really feeling the impact of the current regulations within the coming 12 months.
Last year the ANT planted over 13,000 trees in the tobacco farms in Estelí as part of its ongoing environmental efforts. Perdomo Cigars, which is not a member of ANT, supports a similar effort by working with its suppliers to plant three trees for every one harvested.
Nicaragua is certainly not alone in efforts to help deal with the environmental impacts of cigar making.
Christian Eiroa of CLE Cigar Co., which is based in Honduras, told halfwheel his company is looking at becoming a zero impact company on the environment within the next three years.
At the cornerstone of his efforts will be a $7.2 million program to plant and grow 2,000-2,500 cedar trees in Honduras. Eiroa said he wanted to plant trees that would represent all the wood his cigars have used over his two decades in the industry, and then some.
“My goal is to be able to treat every single tree we’ve consumed, times three,” said Eiroa. “We want to be a ghost in the countries that we’ve been in.”
Eiroa said his company will switch to cardboard boxes within the next three years and use the money saved, potentially as much as $3 per box, to help fund the project. The $7.2 million will go towards securing around two acres of land and the paying for the water, labor and security needed to allow the trees to grow for the next two decades.
Cedar trees can require as much as 55,000 gallons of water per tree per year.
Patrick Lagreid contributed to this article.