Ag Sciences: A Sweet Spot for Collaboration between Cuba and the U.S.

Posted by on February 21st, 2017 | 1 Comment »

By: Karen Coble Edwards, Founder of KCE Public Affairs

KCE is a consulting firm based in the Washington, D.C. area. Karen has worked with trade and agricultural development organizations with programs in more than 30 countries.  

This is the second of two blogs on agricultural trade and cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba. Click here for the first blog on U.S.-Cuba agricultural trade.

Cuba’s organic farming has gained international interest and uses practices like tobacco-based pesticides (shown here). At the same time, Cuba’s decades of agricultural biotechnology investments have birthed animal health vaccines and disease-resistance innovations for plants.
Photo credit: Karen Coble Edwards

Cuba has some of the most fertile land of any tropical country, with more than 1 million acres available for cultivation. Its red soils are an important resource for a country that must import 60 to 80 percent of its food. To further tap into its agricultural potential, Cuba is calling on two approaches: experience in organic farming and decades of investment in agricultural biotechnology. Cuba’s research and technologies have gained recognition around the world, and have potential benefits for U.S. farmers and ranchers as well.

Many Cuban farmers have relied on organic farming techniques due, in great part, to their limited access to productivity enhancing agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, improved seeds, crop protection products and machinery. The head of a 120-employee cooperative organic farm in Cuba visited California last year and came home pleased with how his operation compared to U.S. production, “We are almost as prepared [to succeed] as U.S. organic farmers,” he said and then added he would like a Home Depot for access to supplies. 

For more on the importance of public sector investments in AG R&D, see the 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®), Policy 1.

A Treasure Trove of Knowledge to Share

During a recent visit to the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in Havana, I learned about Cuba’s decades of support for research and development of medical and agricultural biotechnologies.

CIGB’s Business Development Director Merardo Pujol Ferrer said Cuba has 252 biotechnology product approvals in 57 countries. The first U.S. clinical trial of a Cuban vaccine is at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York. He said one of their cattle tick vaccines is used in Venezuela and could be of value in U.S. herds. International seed companies are interested in one of their in-the-pipeline products that could be used to breed soybean resistance to Asian rust disease.

Cuban soil is the most fertile of any tropical country, according to Pedro Sanchez, a world-renowned soils scientist. Sanchez has joined a University of Florida-Cuban science collaboration, which seeks to improve productivity in Cuba where more than one million acres of quality farm land is available.
Photo credit: Karen Coble Edwards

Importantly, U.S.-Cuban agricultural science collaboration is putting down new roots. The Agrarian University of Havana (UNAH) hosted my delegation. UNAH’s Dean of Technical Services Ana Garcia Pereira described how in 2015 they launched cooperation on pasture, forages and other initiatives with Auburn University College of Agriculture.

World-renowned soils scientist and World Food Prize laureate Pedro Sanchez is going back and forth to his native Cuba after joining the University of Florida’s Soil and Water Sciences Department in 2016. He is developing an environmental and food security plan jointly with the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture and seven other research institutes. Sanchez describes Cuba’s 20-plus years of unpublished soils experiments as a “treasure trove” of knowledge.

It is too early to translate the new chapter in Cuban-U.S. relations that opened in December 2014, including its potential benefits for farmers and consumers in both countries. Might scientific teamwork cultivate relationships that will nurture future trade? Research institutions and universities in the U.S. and Cuba are clearly betting that it will.

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1 Comment

  1. Bill Edwards says:

    Very interesting and informative blog. Hope there is more to come.