Cuban delegation visits The Netherlands to learn about Circular and Saline Agriculture
A 3-day visit took place in July by a delegation of Cuban policy makers and advisors to The Netherlands to learn from and get inspired by Dutch experiences in Saline and Circular Agriculture. The visit was part of an ongoing dialogue with Cuban authorities who are interested to put in place policies to promote circular agriculture in Cuba, and was also a step on the way to set up a Saline Agriculture pilot project in Cuba with Dutch expertise.
Dutch vision on Circular Agriculture
Ever since 2018, the transition to a circular agricultural system has been the vision of Government of The Netherlands. In this vision, agriculture and nature operate in harmony and with respect for the Earth’s natural limits, whereas biodiversity is strengthened instead of last and and nutrients and other resources are reused as much as possible and their loss or waste is reduced to a minimum; last but not least, farmers are paid a fair share for their work.
Cuban policy makers and advisors at FAO Cuba have shown interest in this vision, and are eager to learn from lessons learned and experiences in The Netherlands, even though the agricultural sectors in The Netherlands and Cuba are very different: in Cuba, where farmers often struggle to help end meets, resources are often re-used out of pure necessity, while a limited financial resources oblige farmers to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers to a minimum. As of 2019 the agricultural team of the Netherlands Embassy in Havana has been engaged in policy dialogue with Cuba authorities and FAO Cuba and has shared experiences from The Netherlands in promoting circular agriculture.
Dutch Visitors Programme
In this context, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), in close collaboration with the Agricultural team of the Netherlands Embassy in Havana, organized a visit to The Netherlands from 4 to 6 July for a 6-person Cuban delegation, as part of the Dutch Visitors Programme, a programme financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and implemented by RVO, meant to exchange knowledge, build networks and explore cooperation opportunities with the Netherlands. The delegation consisted of representatives of the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, The National Institute of Agricultural Sciences (INCA), FAO Cuba, and the Agricultural Research centre Indio Hatuey.
Circular businesses and organic farming
The Programme started at the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV), where Ministry staff gave an introduction about the Dutch agricultural sector and shared the background and reasons behind the LNV vision on Circular Agriculture. Enthusiastic Dutch entrepreneurs at Rotterzwam, Blue City 010, and Fruit Leather in Rotterdam showed the Cuban Delegation how they built their businesses on circular practices, while farmer couple Bas and Lena Zevenbergen showed how they made their pear orchard in The Hoekse Waard both circular and organic. Farmer Teunis Jacob Slob in Noordeloos received the Delegation in his family’s organic and nature-inclusive dairy farm in the Alblasserwaard.
Salinity in Cuba
Salinity is also an issue that is becoming increasingly problematic in Cuban agriculture. Some one million hectares of agricultural land in Cuba is already affected by salinization, while an additional 1 million hectares may be affected in the future. A recent fact-finding mission to Cuba by the Salt Doctors, a Dutch social enterprise specialized in saline agriculture, found that salt concentrations were higher than suspected by the Cuban authorities and confirmed that salinization caused by subsoil rock, seawater intrusion and the use of brackish water for irrigation is indeed affecting yields of agricultural crops.
Over the last years farmers and agronomists in The Netherlands have gained valuable insights in how to deal with and adapt to salinization. The Cuban delegation visited some of these experiences on the island of Texel, where The Salt Doctors showed them around the island. One of the stops on the way was the Groentehelden farm, where salt-tolerant potatoes and vegetables are grown and where the Delegation enjoyed a meal based on such salt-tolerant crops. They also visited the Spaarwater project, where a consortium led by Acacia Water has installed an ingenious system that helps farmers combat salinization by storing fresh rainwater underground. At Wageningen University & Research, they were informed about ongoing work on salinity and drought-resistant plant breeding, as well as on biological pest control.
During the visit, officials from the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, FAO Cuba, the Agricultural team of the Netherlands Embassy in Havana and The Salt Doctors also discussed the next steps in the Cuban-Dutch collaboration on Saline Agriculture. A follow-up mission to Cuba is foreseen in December, and funds are being sought to finance a saline agriculture pilot project on the island, with support from Dutch expertise.