With the official commissioning of a horticultural greenhouse in Cuba, an important step has been taken in the agricultural development on the island. The Netherlands plays an important role in this project.
by Jean Rummenie, agricultural council for Mexico and Cuba
During the visit of the previous Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, in January 2016, agricultural council Jean Rummenie the former director of Rijk Zwaan Guatemala, Hivos and Finca las Piedras and Finca Martha, it was decided to set up a vegetable cultivation project.
The Cuban government wants to develop agriculture. However, private ownership of land is not yet possible. Of the 6.3 million hectares of agricultural land, only 3 million hectares are currently in use. At the same time Cuba imports a lot of food. These imports cost the state 2 billion dollars a year.
Cuba has five agricultural forms of use. Of the 6.3 million hectares of agricultural land, 1.9 million hectares are in the hands of the state. Approximately 4.3 million hectares are held by UBPCs (Unidades Básicas de Produccion, a type of Kolhoz), CPAs (Cooperativas de Producción Agropecuaria) and CCS (Credit and Service Cooperatives). And finally the Cuentapropistas who have the land on loan and who are closest to resembling a private agricultural company.
Especially the last two categories have shown an improvement in production. They are responsible for 57% of the domestic production on only 24% of agricultural land. Especially for the Cuentapropistas, it is difficult to procure seeds, pesticides and fertilizers that are imported via state organizations.
Another reason for the stagnating agricultural development is that pricing of agricultural products is done by the state. These prices are very low, discouraging many agricultural producers. It is understandable that the state monitors the situation constantly, because otherwise food security for low income residents in Cuba may be at risk.
Because of the increasing tourism a new market has emerged. The state has granted licenses to retail and wholesale companies. And individuals are allowed to start their own restaurant, the paladares. These developments play, especially in the horticultural sector, an important role. This creates a commercial chain without state intervention. This makes it appealing for growers to start production.
Start horticultural project
Against this background, agriculture council Jean Rummenie decided to start a project in the horticulture sector with the aforementioned Finca las Piedras and Finca Martha, where determined entrepreneurs are in charge.
A good horticulture production starts with high-quality starting material, hence the participation of Rijk Zwaan in the project. Next it is important for growers to learn how to use these quality seeds well. Rijk Zwaan already had a training center in Guatemala; the aim of the horticulture project is to copy this on the Fincas so that Cuba has its own practical school for growers. For this reason, the research institute for horticulture Liliana Dimitrova and the phytosanitary service Salud Vegetal are also involved in the project.
Meanwhile, various vegetable seeds from Rijk Zwaan have been approved by Salud Vegetal and simple greenhouses have been built at both locations. The project could also start soon, because under the umbrella of the PAAS project of Hivos and the Swiss Cosudi it did not have to be announced again to the Cuban government.
Last November 24th, the project was opened festively with the commissioning of the greenhouse at Finca Las Piedras. The greenhouses at Finca Martha were unfortunately destroyed by Hurricane Irma. The latter company is an ecological organization and has used the leftover materials to build propagation greenhouses with it.
On the day of the opening the equipment for the installation of a cold storage room was delivered at both locations. A better quality of vegetables and herbs can be sold thanks to the cold storage.
Sales in the city
Finca Las Piedras already has a sales location in the city, where, compared to existing state vegetable markets, a much larger assortment is available for consumers. Finca Martha would also like to have a sales location, but unfortunately the Cuban government has announced a temporary discontinuation of issuing of licenses, also because of Hurricane Irma. Finca Martha currently supplies restaurants and hotels directly.
In the second phase of the project, more attention must be given to the optimization of the chain, especially in the area of packaging and sales. Also the training is only really efficient when the planned facilities (greenhouses, cold rooms, use of quality seeds) have been realized.
So far, we can speak of a successful project that is beginning to produce benefits for Cuba within a reasonably short term. It is now important to put training firmly on the map in the coming years and to extend the project to more partners.
The project is mainly successful thanks to the good cooperation between the parties involved: research institute Liliana Dimitrova (testing of the seeds), Salud Vegetal (import), Finca las Piedras and Finca Marta, Hivos (ACTAF and PAAS), Cosudi, Rijk Zwaan, Yuhina Mangely (agricultural assistant at the Dutch embassy in Havana) and the agricultural councillor in Mexico.