Seeking Gold in Cuban Soil

According to the United States Chamber of Commerce, American exports could reap more than $1.2 billion a year in sales if the U.S. ends its trade restrictions against Cuba.  Cuba imports 60 percent to 80 percent of its food.  New trade lines would also provide a supply of sugar, coffee and tropical produce to America.

An alliance of organic industry leaders, chefs and investors travelled to Cuba this past May, with a mission of persuading the Cubans to protect and extend the small-scale, organic practices that have become a part of their lives.  These practices came into play during the rule of President Fidel Castro, when the communist Soviet Bloc fell apart, and Cuba was unable to trade for agricultural equipment, chemicals and gasoline.  Farmers were forced to replace tractors with oxen, and cooperative farms emerged.

The country has almost 400,000 urban farms, among them 10,000 small organic ones.  Organic supporters would like Cuba to continue employing a sustainable agriculture that rejects chemicals and genetic modification.  The incentive is that the American market is willing to pay a premium for organic produce.  Organic sales in the U.S. grew three times as fast as the overall food market last year.

Efforts to lift trade sanctions between the U.S. and Cuba are moving slowly, due in large part to the upcoming Presidential election.  In the meantime, Cuban officials are being encouraged to build on the country’s extensive research and the cultural desire for local food.

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