Cuba: Begin a new economic era with agriculture
By John R. Block and Mike Espy
Several months ago, President Obama announced plans for the United
States to reestablish diplomatic relations and expand trade and travel
It is a landmark step for both countries. Finally calling an end to more
than 50 years of trade restrictions not only will provide America with
new market opportunities less than 100 miles offshore, but also will
begin to set the stage for changes that will lead to a better life for
the Cuban people.
And the time is right for both our countries. Currently Cubans import
70- 80 percent of their food and this is a potentially ideal market for
US agriculture products to increase two way- trades. American farmers
and businesses and Cuban citizens alike have indicated a growing
eagerness to begin cooperating to forge a new economic relationship.
Although much work lies ahead, decades of economic isolation have
prepared the Cuban people for this new challenge, equipping them with an
enterprising, "can do" attitude that has allowed them to make the best
of what they have—as evidenced by the 1950s-era automobiles that still
cruise the streets of Havana.
While it is common to see such resourcefulness at work throughout Cuba,
there is one endeavor that resists improvement by sheer force of
While a renewed relationship between the United States and Cuba opens
the door to a wide range of opportunities in many economic sectors,
perhaps none are as great as those in agriculture. And a new generation
of Cuban farmers stands ready to take advantage of these new
possibilities to rebuild their nation's agricultural sector and improve
livelihoods of people across the Cuban countryside.
By any measure, Cuba is an agricultural country. About one-third of the
land in Cuba is arable—and 20 percent of the labor force is employed in
agriculture—a rate 10 times that of the United States. Based on those
statistics alone, it is clear to see that the Cuban agricultural sector
is ground zero for initiating the kind of cooperative efforts between
our countries that can bring Cuba back into the world economic community.
But our goal should be far greater than that. Establishing a new era of
U.S.-Cuban agricultural cooperation also can drive economic improvements
that will produce broader benefits for the people of Cuba in terms of
nutrition, income and a more stable and prosperous nation.
Today, a number of U.S. organizations and firms stand ready to begin
forming the new partnerships and relationships that will fuel the
creation of the kind of sustainable agricultural solutions that will be
critical to long-term growth on the island.
These organizations have an established record of success in creating
and integrating the kinds of connections between governments, farmers
and businesses that result in new, vibrant partnerships that can open
the flow of the technology and expertise necessary to improve Cuban
As evidenced by their success in other countries and regions of the
world, these U.S. entities are experienced in creating a collaborative
environment in which farmers, smallholders, cooperatives and other
enterprises can obtain the technical assistance, financing, management
guidance, equipment and input supplies they need to increase production
and income, ramp up operating efficiency and develop new, receptive markets.
These prospective relationships also would carry significant potential
rewards for U.S. farmers, businesses and consumers by providing our
nation with a new market for American grain, technology and expertise,
as well as a nearby source from which we can feed America's growing
appetite for a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Our experiences serving as secretaries of agriculture have left us with
the common conviction that establishing agricultural connections with
other countries provides an open door through which the United States
can reach out to the people of other nations not only to further
economic cooperation, but also to prove our friendship and strengthen it
for future generations.
As the president has indicated, now is the time to fully open this door
and allow the United States and Cuba to begin this process so that our
governments, our farmers, and U.S. firms and organizations can begin to
work together for the common good of both nations.
Block was the secretary of Agriculture 1981-1986 under President Reagan.
He currently serves as senior policy adviser at Olsson, Frank, and
Weeda. Espy was secretary of the Agriculture 1993-1994 under President
Clinton. He is also a former Democratic U.S. representative from the 2nd
District of Mississippi. He currently works as a private sector
attorney, counselor, and agricultural adviser. Both are board members of
CNFA: Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture.
Source: Cuba: Begin a new economic era with agriculture | TheHill -