Can Cuba Supply America’s Growing Appetite for Organic Food?

The evolving relationship between the U.S. and Cuba could open up new avenues for the booming organic market in the states.

American organic food producers and advocates, including the CEO of the Organic Trade Association and executives from Honest Tea, Stonyfield Farm and Global Organics, will be traveling to Cuba in May to take a closer look at the country’s unique, pesticide-free agricultural system and developing Cuba’s organic industry for export, POLITICO reported.

The trip will be organized by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) of Maine. Star chef Tom Colicchio, Pingree’s friend and outspoken proponent of sustainable agriculture, will also attend.

The five-day trip is sponsored by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, which promotes a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty.

“We’re interested in getting a foot in the door,” Pingree, who is also an organic farmer, told the Portland Press Herald. “And making sure that they know there are opportunities there.” Pingree also noted that Cuba has successfully produced essentially organic food for the last 25 years.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost their main supplier of fuel, fertilizers and pesticides and was forced into its Peak Oil crisis. The country basically had to learn how to grow their own food out of necessity. In 1993, the Cuban government eliminated the majority of state-owned farms and turned them over to the workers instead. According to the United Nations Environment Programme:

“While ensuring national food security under a trade embargo, Cuba’s transition to organic agriculture has also had a positive impact on people’s livelihoods by guaranteeing a steady income for a significant proportion of the population. Moreover, the lack of pesticides for agricultural production is likely to have a positive long-term impact on Cubans’ wellbeing since such chemicals are often associated with various negative health implications such as certain forms of cancer.”

The story was captured in the 2006 film, The Power of Community, and the movement is largely viewed as a shining example of sustainable farming.

Tom Vilsack, the Agriculture Secretary is an advocate of Cuban exports to the U.S. who know when and why the trade embargo ends.

While talking to the Modern Farmer after visiting the Island nation in November, Vilsack said, “In my opinion, they have a perfect opportunity to become a top supplier of organic products because they have not adopted the modern agriculture techniques. Since, they have not used any pesticides or fertilizers in their yields like United States and other countries, they can become an organic supplier.”

According to the POLITICO, this is a perfect win/win situation for both countries:

“The major food producers of the United States are already importing most of the organic food items including dairy, meat, and packaged foods from the Europe and South America to fulfill the demands of Americans. Since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, the Cuban farmers are using the old techniques in farming and not used any chemicals on their land. Now, if congress decides to lift the ban from Cuba, they will have access to a market that is willing to pay extra prices for their food items.”

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