A recent visit to Scotland by Cuban agricultural officials has led to a revised agreement for the importation of GB seed potatoes. Supported by the unique partnership between Potato Council and Scottish Government to boost export opportunities, senior officials from Cuba’s Agricultural Ministry and Plant Health section travelled to Scotland this month to meet officials from Scottish Government, SASA, Fera and Potato Council to view our seed potato industry at first hand and discuss revised import conditions for GB seed potatoes. The Cuban visitors were given a focused tour encompassing Scottish Government’s SASA’s plant health facilities, a seed potato micro-propagation facility, and visited a leading Scottish seed grower and exporter – all demonstrating the high health and quality of GB seed production.
In 2013, it was reported that Cuba spent over £1bn on food imports, representing around 60% of its domestic food requirement. Since 2007, the government has made food security a priority and there is an increasing requirement for increased domestic crop production including healthy, high-yielding potatoes.
Robert Burns, Head of Seed and Export at Potato Council led the Inward Mission to Cuba earlier this year with SASA to progress official discussions. Rob advised “Cuba used to import 30K tonnes of seed potatoes each year, some of which came from GB. But in recent years this dwindled to just a few thousand tonnes. However, Cuba has an early growing season and an emerging requirement for
both fresh and processing varieties so there have been great hopes to revive this market as an important destination for GB seed.”
Agriculture employs around 20% of the Cuban population, and Cuban state farms hold over 70% of Cuba’s agricultural land – about 6.7m hectares. In 2008, in a move to increase productive use of state land resources, private farmers and co-operatives were permitted to lease any unused land for production, and regulations were loosened so farmers could sell directly to consumers. Also, Cuba has been plagued by ‘El Marabú’ (Marabou), an invasive weed which has overrun large areas of agricultural land. However, it turns out that Marabou is an effective biofuel and is now being cleared. This is releasing more land back into agricultural use, and no doubt helping to increase domestic food production – and sustainable potato crops – for the 11million population of this large Caribbean island.