By Esteban Israel | Reuters
Brazil and Cuba announced on Friday that the South American powerhouse was providing technical assistance and seed to the Communist-run Caribbean island to grow soybeans on an industrial scale for the first time.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, speaking in Havana to a meeting of Brazilian and Cuban businessmen, said the project represented “a new and important moment for Cuba’s development.”
Amorim, who arrived on Thursday with dozens of businessmen for a two-day visit, said land was already identified for the project and seed ready.
Brazil is one of the world’s largest producers of genetically modified soy, but it was not clear if it would be used in Cuba.
Amorim said joint ventures might be formed in the future.
“I believe we are talking about 30,000 to 40,000 hectares of land to start, but with possibilities to extend it,” Cuban Foreign Trade Minister Raul de la Nuez said.
“We have to develop it little by little because it is not something we have grown before in Cuba,” he said.
Cuban President Raul Castro recently termed increased agricultural output “a matter of national security” in the face of soaring international food prices which are expected to drain more than $2 billion this year from Cuba’s coffers, or some 20 percent of imports.
Raul has decentralized agriculture, reduced bureaucracy and granted more land and economic freedom to the private sector, among other measures aimed at increasing output.
Raul, who took over for his ailing older brother, Fidel, in February, has also suggested foreign investment is needed in agriculture.
The country imports 85 percent of the food it rations to the public, including large amounts of soy, wheat and corn.
The island’s largest food supplier is the United States under a 2000 amendment to the trade embargo that allows food sales to Cuba for cash.
Cuba has studied the possibility of growing soy for a number of years with advice from Canadian and South American experts.
A number of foreign companies have proposed joint ventures to grow soy, so far to no avail.
(Reporting by Esteban Israel, writing by Marc Frank, editing by Matthew Lewis)