U.S. and Cuba Join Voices for Greater Co operation in Agricultural Development

By Alejandra Garcia on May 14, 2024 from Havana

US – Cuba agricultural conference, photo: Abel Padrón Padilla

 This Monday, business people and politicians from the United States and Cuba began a new round of talks to identify potential agricultural businesses that contribute to food supply and nutritional security on both sides of the Straits of Florida. The U.S. blockade against Cuba hits every sector of the country’s economy hard, but most especially the agricultural sector. The island is forced to import a large part of the basic products, among other factors, because of the difficult access to raw materials that revitalize the food production system, from nuts and bolts for the industry to fertilizers essential for the land and crops.

The 5th U.S.-Cuba Agricultural Conference comes as a breath of fresh air, bringing together in Havana experts and farmers from Cuba and the United States, who refuse to stand idly by amid shortages on the Caribbean island, besieged by successive White House administrations for more than 60 years. “Holding these kinds of meetings regularly is great progress, although we are still not where we would like to be,” U.S. Congressman Rick Crawford said at the event, which took place at Cuba’s iconic National Hotel.

“For any country in the world, food security is an essential component of national security,” assured the legislator, who appreciated the growing support within the United States for agricultural initiatives in favor of regularizing economic and trade relations with the island. “We have not left the Cuban people alone for a second in the last 60 years,” he recalled.

Amid endless restrictions, the activism of U.S. farmers was fundamental for the U.S. Congress to approve in 2000 the Sanctions Reform Act and the expansion of exports, which allowed the island to buy food there, although under disadvantageous conditions, and later new initiatives emerged which have helped the country not to paralyze its domestic production. Today, the coalition of Cubans and U.S. farmers, experts, and politicians has accumulated 10 years of uninterrupted work.

“We have to start thinking about the efforts we need to make in the agricultural sector for food security and the sustainability of our populations, whether here or in the United States. Events like this are very important in that effort. I will be back. We’ve had some setbacks because of COVID-19, primarily, but we can’t blame the pandemic for everything that happens to us. The health emergency highlighted the fragility of our system and the importance of maintaining our efforts to ensure food security,” the expert commented.

The U.S. delegation was large, made up of representatives of the agricultural sector from all over the country, while the Cuban delegation ranged from ministerial directors to members of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises. Currently, about 80 percent of the agricultural area in Cuba is operated by non-state management, which includes more than 3,000 cooperatives, according to official data. Government records also show the existence of some 404,400 different landholders, organized into more than 405,000 farms.

These numbers prove that Cuba does not stop despite the adversities. “We are a small country, but not a negligible market. We work to ensure the food of 11 million Cubans,” Díaz-Canel recently expressed and recalled that there has been a permanent dialogue between Cuba and American farmers and delegations from that sector are frequently received on the Island.

For example in February, agricultural secretaries of several North American states and producers, led by the National Association of United States Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), also reaffirmed excellent commercial ties can be developed between their country and Cuba, especially in the agricultural sector.

During that meeting, they were interested not only in exporting to the Cuban market but in strengthening commercial relations, having greater exchange that really contributes to achieving the sovereignty and food security that the Cuban government seeks. They also learned about the opportunities and facilities that the Caribbean country offers in terms of foreign investment, the scientific and technical potential in this sector, and the measures underway to transform it so that it provides more food for the people.

These meetings and conferences will continue, according to Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, who attended the 5th U.S.-Cuba Agricultural Conference. “Last year we experienced the warmest winter, a sign that the world is moving into an unprecedented era due to climate change. We are living in a major transition.”

“It’s time to take it one step at a time, negotiate in good faith, and resolve our differences, restore trade, and work together to improve our relations. Today, we showed that this is achievable,” he concluded.

What is looming in the background of this optimism is the many restrictions on Cuba in place by US sanctions and the over 60 year old brigade that need to be overcome.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – English