Not just rum and cigars … Cuba finding its identity

The wind of change that tumbled the wall in Europe and opened up South Africa and China is now gently stroking the largest Caribbean Island. Since Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club conquered music charts around the world, it became clear that Cuba is opening up. Soon also, the political hurdles for trade will fall. Are you prepared?

At any feed industry meeting, you can hear something about “learning from Brazil” or “playing the China card” since both markets heavily infl uence our business today. Everything sounds so big and important, but at the doorstep to the U.S. and close to Mexico, there is a highly cultivated and very fertile piece of land. It is the biggest landmass of the Caribbean, and in contrast to the other islands, agriculture plays a key role in the economy of Cuba.

Cuba was once inhabited by an unknown culture who thought the island was the whole world. The first Europeans once thought it was India, the Africans thought it was hell and, in the ’40s and 50’s, everyone thought it was paradise. Then, the Russians thought it was theirs, and finally, the Cubans took themselves completely off the map — for awhile.

As things calmed down, businessmen and tourists from Latin America, Canada and Europe slowly rediscovered Cuba. Cuba also built intense business relationships with West African nations. Cuban representatives are visiting meat packers in Denmark, cassava processors in Ghana, chicken breeders in Turkey and feed industry tradeshows around the world. Cuba is getting prepared.

Today, Cuba has found its identity. Cubans are well educated and rely on a well-functioning health system. The unemployment rate dropped from above 10% in the ’90s to below 5% and is now lower than in any European country. Many Cubans are still poor compared to western standards, but absolute poverty with squatters begging in the streets and children playing in dump yards is unknown. Cuba is a comparably wealthy nation that shows a rapidly growing middle class. Everyone in the feed industry knows what this means to animal production: more meat and milk consumption, more pets, more competition, more communication and more diversity.

This article is not the place for extensive statistics, but Cuba, in any case, has a provoking potential for anyone in the feed industry not only seeking commodity sources but, rather, more new markets for added-value business. The Cuban Association for Animal Production launched a program to boost the domestic dairy industry’s production and to cut imports of milk powder. Milk is regarded as a key component in the country’s strategy to secure nutrition and health of children and elderly people. In 2004, Cuba also extended its program for swine breeding, dairy processing and offshore and freshwater aquaculture to meet the demands of both domestic consumption and exports. Cuba moved away from being the world’s largest exporter of sugar to becoming a provider of a much broader range of agricultural goods — at least lime, syrup, mint and rum, the ingredients of a good Mojito.

Excerpt from Feedstuffs 17.Dec. 2007 Feedstuffs