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
honeybees
Citrus
May 23, 2017
Webinar Series Highlights New Research on Honeybee Health
National Pollinator Week webinar showcases research to improve honeybee colony health by 2020. Read More
stack of lemons
Citrus
May 23, 2017
California Lemon Growers Sue USDA
Lemon industry files suit against rule allowing importation of Argentine lemons. Read More
Bee Vectoring Technologies experimental hives
Citrus
May 23, 2017
Insects (Bad and Good) Make for Interesting Field Trips
Disease-fighting bees and the deadly citrus psyllid were at the center of two recent, research-fueled out-of-office adventures. Read More
Tango mandarin orange sliced in half
Varieties & Rootstocks
May 23, 2017
In Quest for Low-Seeded Citrus, It Takes Two to Tango
Momentum for viable mandarin hybrids for Florida reaching a peak in the land down under. Read More
Citrus
May 20, 2017
Short on Water, Florida Growers Know How to Dig Down Deep
Through drought, smoke and brush fires, it’s plain to see you farmers have been doing your part to conserve and preserve one of our most precious resources. Read More
seattle port shipping
Citrus
May 20, 2017
USDA Creates Undersecretary for Trade
Reorganization puts trade, farm production as top priorities for the agency. Read More
2017 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award winner Ed Pines
Citrus Achievement Award
May 18, 2017
Meet the 2017 Florida Grower Citrus Achievement Award Winner
Cheers to Ed Pines for putting the positive back in citrus. Read More
Sugar Belle oranges
Varieties & Rootstocks
May 18, 2017
Unique Citrus Variety Standing Up to Deadly Disease
University of Florida researchers are peeling back the layers to find out what’s helping specific mandarin hybrid hold serve against HLB. Read More
Citrus
May 16, 2017
First California Red Scale Aerosol Mating Disruption Product Approved
EPA, California officials grant Semios approval of pheromone pest control solution for widespread citrus problem. Read More
Citrus
May 16, 2017
EPA Seeks States’ Input On Waters of the U.S. Rule
As the agency considers scaling back the water rule, states are asked to define protected waters. Read More
Orie Lee, 2015 Citrus Achievement Award winner
Citrus
May 15, 2017
Florida Citrus Innovator Passes Away at 90
Orie Lee spent half his life cultivating the industry he cared deeply for. Read More
Burn ban sign posted along S.R. A1A in Flagler County, FL, due to drought conditions
Citrus
May 15, 2017
Drought Conditions Deepen Across Central Florida
Water Shortage Warning Order expanded to all counties within St. Johns River Water Management District. Read More
Citrus
May 11, 2017
Late Season Rally in Forecast for Florida Orange Crop
Latest estimate from USDA reveals first increase in several months; grapefruit continues to sour. Read More
Citrus
May 9, 2017
Barn Owls Can be an Effective Control for Rodents and Gophers
The predators are already getting results in vineyards and orchards. Research is showing they’re just as effective in vegetable and fruit fields. Read More
Citrus
May 5, 2017
USDA Angers California Lemon Growers
Industry leaders extremely disappointed by Argentine lemon rule. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
May 25, 2017
Are We Overstating the World’s Ove…
If growers can’t achieve a fair return on investment and stay in business, it won’t matter what the population is in 2050. We all will be trouble. Read More
Citrus
May 24, 2017
Falcons Scare off Other Birds at Duncan …
It collaborates with a firm that uses trained falcons to intimidate and scare off nuisance birds such as the horned larks and pigeons that frequent the area. Read More
Citrus
May 23, 2017
Search is on For Next Crop of Florida Ag…
Nomination period now open for longtime industry honor. Read More
Citrus
May 23, 2017
Webinar Series Highlights New Research o…
National Pollinator Week webinar showcases research to improve honeybee colony health by 2020. Read More
Citrus
May 23, 2017
California Lemon Growers Sue USDA
Lemon industry files suit against rule allowing importation of Argentine lemons. Read More
Citrus
May 23, 2017
Insects (Bad and Good) Make for Interest…
Disease-fighting bees and the deadly citrus psyllid were at the center of two recent, research-fueled out-of-office adventures. Read More
Citrus
May 20, 2017
Short on Water, Florida Growers Know How…
Through drought, smoke and brush fires, it’s plain to see you farmers have been doing your part to conserve and preserve one of our most precious resources. Read More
Citrus
May 20, 2017
USDA Creates Undersecretary for Trade
Reorganization puts trade, farm production as top priorities for the agency. Read More
Citrus
May 16, 2017
First California Red Scale Aerosol Matin…
EPA, California officials grant Semios approval of pheromone pest control solution for widespread citrus problem. Read More
Citrus
May 16, 2017
EPA Seeks States’ Input On Waters of the…
As the agency considers scaling back the water rule, states are asked to define protected waters. Read More
Citrus
May 15, 2017
Florida Citrus Innovator Passes Away at …
Orie Lee spent half his life cultivating the industry he cared deeply for. Read More
Citrus
May 15, 2017
Drought Conditions Deepen Across Central…
Water Shortage Warning Order expanded to all counties within St. Johns River Water Management District. Read More
Citrus
May 11, 2017
Late Season Rally in Forecast for Florid…
Latest estimate from USDA reveals first increase in several months; grapefruit continues to sour. Read More
Citrus
May 9, 2017
Barn Owls Can be an Effective Control fo…
The predators are already getting results in vineyards and orchards. Research is showing they’re just as effective in vegetable and fruit fields. Read More
Citrus
May 5, 2017
USDA Angers California Lemon Growers
Industry leaders extremely disappointed by Argentine lemon rule. Read More
Citrus
April 29, 2017
Florida Ag Commissioner Pushes for Probe…
With a focus on Mexico, letter sent by Adam Putnam to the U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary stresses need for level playing field. Read More
Citrus
April 28, 2017
EPA Approves New Plant Growth Stimulant
RIO from Arysta LifeScience North America is labeled for use on citrus, vegetables, tree fruit, strawberries, grapes, and nuts. Read More
Citrus
April 27, 2017
The California Citrus Grower Defines Lea…
While HLB wreaked havoc elsewhere, the California citrus industry came together and formed an action plan. Read More