My First Trip To Cuba Proves Fruitful

Urban vegetable farm in rural Cuba
This lush urban farm in Alamar, Cuba, uses only organic production practices. In addition, this operation does not employ a single power tool on the farm.
Photo by Lisa Lochridge

I had a chance to get a peek behind the curtain, so to speak, for a firsthand look at Cuban agriculture on a recent trip with other alumni of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources. The five-day trip was enlightening, providing the 28 participants with a better perspective of the state of agriculture in this country 90 miles off Florida’s coast.

My takeaway? Both Cuban and Florida producers will face challenges and opportunities if and when trade resumes between Cuba and the U.S. Florida producers are right to be concerned over resumption of trade. Cuba produces many of the same crops we do in the same growing season. That said, it likely will be years before Cuba has the resources, infrastructure, and systems necessary to be a significant market threat for Florida. In addition, there remains the critical issue of harmful pests and diseases coming into Florida from Cuban products. Much work will need to be done to protect our industry from any more threats than we are already dealing with.

Although we expected to see a poor country, the level of poverty and decaying infrastructure was surprising. Decades of neglect and lack of maintenance on buildings and roads have taken a heavy toll.

Our itinerary included meetings with key Cuban officials and tours of farms and a market. Social scientist Dr. Rafael Hernandez laid the groundwork for the trip with an overview of the history of Cuban agriculture and economics. The economic recovery since the fall of the Soviet Union has been “slow and not enough,” he said. Cuba’s fundamental challenge is that the country can’t produce its own food. Most state farmland now has been leased to cooperatives, he said.

On National Farmer Day, we met with Minister of Agriculture Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero. During a wide-ranging discussion, Rodriguez Rollero conceded the years since the collapse of the Soviet bloc have been difficult. Eighty percent of Cuba’s foreign trade disappeared in 18 months, including animal feed, fertilizer, chemicals, tractors and parts, and oil.

The minister was asked what guarantees the country could give that the produce it would export to the U.S. would be free of pests and plant diseases. He gave no specifics, nor did he outline any plans to establish an inspection program should trade resume. “Pests and diseases go both ways,” he pointed out. “You have serious companies dedicated to that and USDA. We have to keep working on that.”

Rodriguez Rollero said Florida’s and Cuba’s producers should “work together to exchange our experiences … When the blockade is lifted, farmers’ organizations should work together not to be competitors. We have to look for niche markets. We need your help. That’s a future vision we should have.”

He proudly boasted of the country’s tobacco industry. “Cuban cigars don’t cause cancer,” he proclaimed. “They cause envy.”

Citrus grove in Cuba
The Cuban citrus industry has been hit particularly hard by HLB.
Photo by Lisa Lochridge

We spent an interesting evening with Jeffrey DeLaurentis, Charge d’Affaires to Cuba, at his grand home discussing the U.S. move toward normalizing relations with the country. He discussed how the lifting of the embargo would play out if it’s passed by Congress. He also listened to and acknowledged the concerns of our group over Cuban competition with Florida producers and invasive pests and diseases that might be introduced to our state from Cuban exports.

The devastation of Cuba’s citrus industry was the focus of our visit with Jose Pinera, Veteran Technical Director of the UBPC del la Empresa Citricos Ceiba, a state-owned company founded decades ago to grow citrus for Havana. Production there has dropped from 500,000 trees to just 200,000 as a result of greening. Still, Pinera was sanguine. “We thought it was the end of the world,” he said, “but we are no longer terrified.”

A father-daughter team led us on a tour of their lush urban farm in Alamar that uses only organic production practices. It produces and sells a variety of vegetables and tropical fruit, from lettuce to bok choy to mangoes. Not a single power tool is used on the farm. Workers still use horses and an ox with carts to move product. The growers discussed challenges, including the Cuban people’s disinterest in eating fresh vegetables and the lack of transportation and refrigeration that would allow them to sell their produce to local hotels for tourists.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Citrus Stories
Fallen citrus fruit in wake of Irma
Citrus
October 12, 2017
Irma Rains Down on Florida Citrus Crop Estimate
Initial USDA forecast reflects the fruits of what was left behind by monster storm. Read More
A water-logged citrus grove in Southwest Florida following Irma
Citrus
October 10, 2017
Impressions from Irma Indelible on the Florida Farmscape [Slideshow]
Striking images from the field reveal not only the storm’s destructive nature, but also paths to recovery and reconstruction. Read More
Citrus
October 9, 2017
(We Won’t Back Down … ) Stand Your Ground for Agriculture
You don’t have to be a super hero, rock star, or award-winning scientist to aid farming. You can help by supporting professionalism in fields. Read More
Greenhouse structure damage at SWFREC in Immokalee
Citrus
October 6, 2017
Complications Persist as Florida Growers Pick up After Irma
Ground zero perspective reveals how citrus and vegetable producers are facing different, daunting challenges in wake of destructive storm. Read More
Growers boot up drone technology on the farm
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Are You a Precision Grower?
Gathering, analysis, and application still seems to be the best basic definition of precision agriculture. Read More
Greenhouse structures flattened by Irma at C&B Farms
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Hurricane Irma Toll on Florida Farming in the Billions
Preliminary damage estimates confirm storm’s ferocity. Read More
A sea of citrus fruit floating in floodwater after Irma
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Tips to Help Hurricane-Stressed Citrus Trees
Cleaning up damage and small doses of nutrition the fastest path to helping blocks bounce back. Read More
Citrus
October 4, 2017
Goodlatte Officially Introduces the Ag Guestworker Act
On Monday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced his Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 bill, which would replace H-2A with an H-2C program. Rep. Goodlatte introduced the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. Read More
honeybees
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$10 Million for Honeybee Health
National Honey Board, Project Apis.m investing in pollinator research. Read More
Swamped citrus in Southwest Florida
Citrus
October 2, 2017
Perseverance a Priority for Florida Farmers Post-Irma
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam heartened by the strides being made by growers around the state as they begin to recover from the hurricane. Read More
cash money in hand
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$18 Million in Grants Available for Value-Added Producers
Farmers in need of planning or working capital funds to move their ideas forward encouraged to check out program. Read More
Asian citrus psyllid closeup
Insect & Disease Update
September 28, 2017
Attention to Citrus Psyllid Control Critical After Hurricane Irma
Flushing trees will give HLB vector perfect breeding ground. Read More
Field of carinata
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Research on Jet Fuel Cover Crop Ready for Takeoff
Scientists seeking to find if carinata can sustainably feed future renewable energy demands. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Agriculture Offers Rare Opportunity for Bipartisan Action
A running theme from agricultural-friendly politicians speaking at the United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Conference was the need for a bipartisan approach to agriculture and immigration. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Will H-2A Become H-2C? Find Out What the New Bill Proposes
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R VA) is re-introducing a bill that aims to replace H-2A. Here are some of the ways it will differ from the current program. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
October 18, 2017
How to Keep Track of Climate Change
Use cool tools to find out how your production methods may change in the future, how much your area is at risk, and how to limit your own impact on the climate. Read More
Citrus
October 17, 2017
USDA Issues Disaster Declaration for Hur…
Operators in designated counties eligible for emergency assistance. Read More
Citrus
October 16, 2017
Wrath of Hurricane Irma’s Rainfall…
Report says storm dropped enough gallons of water on Florida’s St. Johns River Water Management District to swamp 6.7 million football fields. Read More
Citrus
October 12, 2017
Irma Rains Down on Florida Citrus Crop E…
Initial USDA forecast reflects the fruits of what was left behind by monster storm. Read More
Citrus
October 10, 2017
Impressions from Irma Indelible on the F…
Striking images from the field reveal not only the storm’s destructive nature, but also paths to recovery and reconstruction. Read More
Citrus
October 9, 2017
(We Won’t Back Down … ) Stan…
You don’t have to be a super hero, rock star, or award-winning scientist to aid farming. You can help by supporting professionalism in fields. Read More
Citrus
October 6, 2017
Complications Persist as Florida Growers…
Ground zero perspective reveals how citrus and vegetable producers are facing different, daunting challenges in wake of destructive storm. Read More
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Are You a Precision Grower?
Gathering, analysis, and application still seems to be the best basic definition of precision agriculture. Read More
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Hurricane Irma Toll on Florida Farming i…
Preliminary damage estimates confirm storm’s ferocity. Read More
Citrus
October 5, 2017
Tips to Help Hurricane-Stressed Citrus T…
Cleaning up damage and small doses of nutrition the fastest path to helping blocks bounce back. Read More
Citrus
October 4, 2017
Goodlatte Officially Introduces the Ag G…
On Monday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced his Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 bill, which would replace H-2A with an H-2C program. Rep. Goodlatte introduced the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs. Read More
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$10 Million for Honeybee Health
National Honey Board, Project Apis.m investing in pollinator research. Read More
Citrus
October 2, 2017
Perseverance a Priority for Florida Farm…
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam heartened by the strides being made by growers around the state as they begin to recover from the hurricane. Read More
Citrus
October 2, 2017
$18 Million in Grants Available for Valu…
Farmers in need of planning or working capital funds to move their ideas forward encouraged to check out program. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Research on Jet Fuel Cover Crop Ready fo…
Scientists seeking to find if carinata can sustainably feed future renewable energy demands. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Agriculture Offers Rare Opportunity for …
A running theme from agricultural-friendly politicians speaking at the United Fresh Produce Association's Washington Conference was the need for a bipartisan approach to agriculture and immigration. Read More
Citrus
September 27, 2017
Will H-2A Become H-2C? Find Out What the…
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R VA) is re-introducing a bill that aims to replace H-2A. Here are some of the ways it will differ from the current program. Read More
Citrus
September 26, 2017
Rise of Agricultural Automation Drives I…
The International Forum of Agricultural Robots aims to provide links to farming’s future. Read More