Jember produces 50,000 cigars a month today, up from 100,000 cigars a year previously. Eighty percent of cigars manufactured are for domestic use.
The Jember cigar is something special in my country and has been for several years," declared Lucas Hofmann Meyer. The 45-year-old German tourist and his 42-year-old Dutch friend, Johannes van der Laan, were splurging on several brands of cigars at a hotel in Jember, East Java, last Monday. They both said that they had tried Agropuros, a Jember brand of cigar in Bali. After having spent a week wandering around the Meru Betiri National Park, they finally got their hands on this hand-rolled cigar.
Jember is indeed renowned as a producer of a special kind of tobacco for the finest class of cigars worldwide, ever since a Dutchman named George Birnie opened a tobacco plantation in the Ajung, Jenggawah and Mumbulsari districts of Jember in the 1850s. Even today, Indonesia still holds a 34 to 37 percent share of the world tobacco market.
"And as much as 25 percent of that is tobacco originating from Jember," said Desak Nyoman Siksiawati, chief of the Certification Council for the Quality of Jember Tobacco Products. It comes as no surprise therefore that the tobacco business in Jember is a mainstay for both the regional government as well as many of the residents of the East Java city. Last May tobacco exports reached 6.5 million tons and last year tobacco sales produced foreign exchange earnings of up to US$146 million. Tax income for the Jember administration has reached an average of Rp11 billion per year.
Nevertheless, Jember cigars are a relatively new commodity in the market compared to similar products from Tarumartani in Yogjakarta, which has made the rounds in the market since 1918. It was only in 1987 when the employees of the Kartanagara cooperatives at state-owned agricultural firm Perkebunan Nusantara X succeeded in producing cigars within the village of Candijati in the Arjasa District, which lies about 10 kilometers north of Jember. "For years we thought that we could only produce and supply the raw materials for producing cigars," said Kuntjoro, the 75 year-old veteran of the Quality Control Unit at the Kartanegara Cigar Cooperatives.
Despite not being as fiercely competitive as Cuban cigars, it turned out that the national product was able to compete in the market. The factory was able to produce 100,000 cigars per year, all destined for the domestic market. It was only able to begin exporting cigars in 1993. This was at first only to Japan for whom it only produced small-sized cigars under the Macho brand. In the following years, orders came from Australia and Europe.
Today, Kartanegara has succeeded in producing 16 brands of cigars from the small cigars or cigarillos, the soft fillers to the long fillers. The long fillers have whole tobacco leaves in them whereas the smaller sizes of cigars have chopped up or ground tobacco in them. Jember products are given foreign names such as Premium, Robusta, Panatela, Corona and Torpedo. However, there are also brands with local names such as Agropuros and Indopuros and even ones reminiscent of the Islands of the Gods namely, Bali Legong and Bali Tips.
"The brands with the Balinese names are very popular among foreigners and indeed we market most of our cigars to Bali," explained the head of the Jember branch of the Indonesian Tobacco Association (ITA). As a place mostly visited by many tourists, Bali is regarded as a market with a huge potential for Indonesian cigars.
On the domestic market the cigars from Kartanegara are considered extremely cheap. The products are sold for Rp6,000 to Rp30,000 per cigar. Compare this with Cuban cigars, for instance, which cost Rp400,000 to Rp600,000 per cigar. All Kartanegara cigars are produced manually using about 50 workers and using Jember tobacco for the wrappers, fillers and cover.
As far as the flavor goes, Abdul Kahar Muzakkir, the deputy head of the Jember Tobacco Commission, told Tempo that the Jember cigar has its own fans. This is because even though the type of tobacco planted may be the same, the end taste will differ depending on the type of soil it is planted in.
At any rate the two foreign tourists mentioned earlier were so taken with the taste of the Jember cigar after having tried it in Bali, they ended up purchasing six boxes of Agropuros. "They have a special flavor and their presentation is lovely and quite unique," praised Van der Laan, as he gently stroked the cigar box.
By Yudono Y. Akhmadi, Mahbub Djunaedy (Jember)
No. 45/12, July 03, 2012
Na oosgt tobacco seedlings in Ajung village, Jember