Cuban agriculture
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Increased agricultural trade with Cuba faces obstacles in addition to embargo

PURE CUBA: Increased agricultural trade with Cuba faces obstacles in
addition to embargo
By TRACY SAMILTON & MERCEDES MEJIA • APR 28, 2016

Michigan agriculture businesses are intrigued by the prospect of doing
business in Cuba, after the Obama administration re-established formal
ties with the island nation.

Cuba also sees the U.S. as a potential new market.
But there are still many obstacles standing in the way of increased
agricultural trade. One of them is the low productivity on the typical
Cuban small farm.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack toured farms in Cuba last
year. He says he’s impressed with what Cuban farmers have been able to
produce given their limited access to technology, machinery and other
inputs, but they have a long way to go.
“I think the word I would use to describe Cuban agriculture is very
basic and rudimentary,” says Vilsack. “For American producers it would
be like going back in time to the 1930s and 1940s in this country, which
is one of the reasons Cuba imports 80% of its food.”
Although Cuba has large-scale tobacco and sugar cane farms, most of its
more typical food-producing farms are small. If a farmer is lucky
enough to have a tractor, it’s likely to be at least 30 years old. Many
other farmers till their fields with oxen, or even by hand.
Pesticides and herbicides are very expensive – so by default many farms
are raising crops organically.
Vilsack says that actually represents an opportunity.
“Their land could be well suited for organic production, of organic
fruits and vegetables,” he says, “of which there is an increasingly
large demand here in the U.S. and around the world.”
And, in return, Vilsack says, American farmers could sell more rice,
black beans, milk, and poultry to Cuba’s centralized government, which
has long struggled to feed its people, even after the so-called “Special
period” of privatization when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, along
with its support of Cuba.
Cuban agriculture experts told us this sounds like a fine plan.
But increasing yields on the country’s 200,000 small farms to produce
local crops for Cubans and tourists has to come first.
Something that could help in the near future is the U.S. government’s
approval of the first American-built factory on Cuban soil in more than
sixty years.
CleBer is a joint venture, established in 2015 by Cuban native Saul
Berenthal and U.S. businessman Horace Clemmons, to provide simple, cost
effective tractors to Cuban farmers. The group hopes greater
efficiency in farming the land will allow today’s field workers to
become part of tomorrow’s supply chain in distributing Cuban-grown
agriculture to a wider geographic area.
Tractor production is scheduled to begin in late 2016 or early 2017.
Meanwhile, the uncertainty hasn’t deterred U.S. agriculture groups from
sending out scouts, like Jim Byrum of the Michigan Agribusiness Association.
As he knows well, a staple of the Cuban diet is black beans, and “we
grow more black beans in Michigan than any state in the union.
Currently Cuba’s buying them from South America or China, and we think
it makes more sense for them to look here.”
Still, Byrum is a realist. He says trade with Cuba is often stymied by
the embargo, which doesn’t permit the country to buy U.S. goods on credit.
And he says Americans shouldn’t expect Cuba to open its wallet unilaterally.
“It needs to be a two-way street, it’s not just sell, sell, sell,” says
Byrum, “because they don’t have a lot of money, money, money.”
While political resistance to lifting the embargo remains, Agriculture
secretary Tom Vilsack sees it being chipped away every day.
“And particularly agriculture’s leading the effort because we see the
wisdom of doing business with the Cubans, so I think it’s just a matter
of time,” Vilsack said.
Cubans are especially eager for an end to the embargo. It’s hoped that
will mean more food on their own tables, as well as on the plates of
tourists.
Correction: The original story said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom
Vilsack was “not impressed” with the state of Cuban agriculture, because
it is “basic and rudimentary.” A spokeswoman for Vilsack says he was
actually very impressed with what Cuban farmers have been able to
produce given their limited access to technology, machinery and other
inputs, but he acknowledges they have a long way to go.
*This post was last updated at 12:15 p.m. on April, 28, 2016.

Source: PURE CUBA: Increased agricultural trade with Cuba faces
obstacles in addition to embargo | Michigan Radio –
michiganradio.org/post/pure-cuba-increased-agricultural-trade-cuba-faces-obstacles-addition-embargo#stream/0

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