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C'est L'Afrique: Cameroon Wrapper Leaf

Tobacco Scion Rick Meerapfel and Associates Are Raising Quality Wrapper in central Africa
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98

(continued from page 3)

"People working here used to throw the tobacco everywhere and take poor care of what they were doing," says Meerapfel, after checking a handful of fermenting bulks and confirming with the Africans when to rotate them. "Now, they take great care with every leaf. They know how and when to do things. It's amazing. I am so very proud. They are doing it. I am teaching them, but they are doing it all on their own."

It's difficult to grasp the amazing success of Meerapfel and the rest of the people of CETAC. A visit to the town of Nokombo illustrates the daily hardships in the name of fine Central African tobacco. Standing on a small mound in the middle of a grassy field on the outskirts of the village, Meerapfel and Yandji are peering over the area, holding an architect's plans and discussing the massive processing plant to be built here in the coming year. The only evidence of the forthcoming construction is a huge pile of boulders left at the site for the building's foundation.

The construction has been delayed for weeks since CETAC hasn't been able to get its bulldozer to Nokombo from Gamboula, a brutal 40-mile trip that takes about three hours by four-wheel drive. The bulldozer continues to break down as it is driven to the destination at about one mile per hour. New parts to fix the intermittent problems have been promised from Europe, but their arrival date is unknown. "People just have no idea what it takes to put up a building or anything else around here," says Meerapfel, shaking his head while discussing the bulldozer debacle. "It really is against all the odds. You have to be determined to do it. Otherwise, you will never succeed. However, should we fail, there will be no more wrapper coming from Central Africa. So I am not going to fail. I don't want to let the Africans down, either."

He stops for a moment, pausing before taking another puff on his cigar. "I wonder if some banker in New York, smoking his cigar with Central African wrapper and with a glass of fine Scotch, has any idea what it takes to get tobacco out of here? He probably doesn't care. But I wouldn't want to be in his shoes. I love it here doing this; and in the end, we both love cigars and we love what we do." *

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