PSD Project proves viability of collaboration of Dutch-Cuban actors in strengthening Cuba’s food value chain
Cuba currently imports 80% of its food and is keen on developing its agricultural sector to reduce its food dependency. At the same time, the country is gradually opening its agricultural sector to foreign investment and private enterprise. In this context, HIVOS and Rijk Zwaan embarked on a project to support private sector development, by training 230 Cuban producers in sustainable cultivation techniques and to obtain market access for Dutch vegetable seeds in Cuba, in close collaboration with the Netherlands Embassy in Cuba and Cuban authorities. The project, funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and commissioned by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), also conducted market research to identify opportunities for Dutch companies in Cuba’s agricultural sector.
Cuba imports around 80% of its food and the country’s Government seeks to reduce Cuba’s reliance on imports by bolstering national agricultural production. However, it faces barriers in modernizing the sector due to a lack of knowledge and experience in the entire value chain, from growing the crops, through processing and sales. There is also a lack of technological equipment for production, storage, processing, and transportation; and a scarcity of appropriate seed varieties and other inputs.
As the country’s economy gradually opens up to foreign investment and private enterprise, Hivos and Dutch seed company Rijk Zwaan have taken steps towards increasing international participation in the development of Cuba’s horticultural sector by implementing the project “Strengthening the Horticulture Sector in Cuba through the Involvement of Private Sector Actors”. The Netherlands-financed project, was conducted in collaboration with Cuban agencies and farmers and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Cuba.
Training and greenhouses
The project spanned from February 2019 through September 2021 and was aimed at strengthening the Cuban agricultural sector by assisting producers in the sustainable cultivation of vegetables, providing them with technical assistance and access to Rijk Zwaan´s seed varieties and technologies. Liliana Dimitrova Horticultural Research Institute, responsible for certifying and registering new seeds on the Cuban market, tested Rijk Zwaan vegetable seeds in four different implementation sites. Varieties of lettuce, tomato, pepper, and cucumber were among the trial seeds. Rijk Zwaan also provided technical assistance to farmers, training 230 people in crop management techniques. They provided technologies such as low-cost greenhouses for protected cultivation methods, optimized irrigation systems, and cold storage. The low-cost wooden greenhouses, built from locally available material, proved to be particularly useful in the Cuban context: during the project Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture constructed some 500 of them, and another 500 are planned to be built in 2022. Finally, the project also supported local producers in product branding and in developing market channels.
HIVOS and Rijk Zwaan also conducted a market study to describe Cuba’s agricultural system, and to identify threats and possibilities in the sector within the context of ongoing transformations in Cuba’s political economy. The study identified key opportunities and needs towards expanding production for local, tourist, and export markets, and provided recommendations for Cuban actors as well as companies from the Netherlands interested in involving themselves in the expansion of the sector.
The project was successful in providing Cuban farmers with the knowledge, resources, and experience to cultivate new varieties of vegetables and to sell them for local consumption and for the tourist market. It proved the viability of several new seed varieties within Cuba’s agro-climatic conditions, and supported resilience to adverse weather events linked to climate change through the introduction of greenhouses and training in protected cultivation methods. The project also improved marketing conditions for Cuban growers by providing storage technologies that lengthen the shelf life of vegetables and by fostering business relationships. Based on these results, several Cuban agricultural companies have expressed interest in evaluating Rijk Zwaan seeds for cultivation and commercialization. Collaborations were also fostered across Rijk Zwaan, farmers’ cooperatives, Cuban authorities, and a Cuban research institute. These connections pave the way for the participation of other Dutch enterprises in providing services and technologies that strengthen Cuba’s agricultural value chain.
Information and guidance
Dutch agricultural companies interested in exploring their opportunities on the Cuban market are encouraged to contact the agricultural team of the Netherlands Embassy in Havana for more information and guidance by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The project’s final report and the market study are both available in the Document section of this portal.