Saturday, April 15, 2017

Green Gold From Cuba’s Fields

Green Gold From Cuba's Fields

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 April 2017 – A shout disturbed
the morning's tranquility. "Avocaaaaaaado!" shouted the roving salesman
as he toured the streets of Central Havana. Considered the "green gold"
of foods, this fruit could become an important source of income for the
island, due to the high level of consumption around the world.

With the diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington, some local
farmers are hoping to export the fruit to the United States. In 2015,
Americans consumed about 907,000 tonnes (metric tons) of avocadoes,
twice as much as the year before.

And the phenomenon is not limited to the United States. At the
international level the fruit is gaining ground; in 2013, 4.7 million
tonnes of avocadoes were harvested, according to the United Nations Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than twice as much as two
decades earlier. Mexico leads the market with 80% of world production,
and in the Caribbean our neighbor the Dominican Republic harvests about
290,000 tonnes a year.

Last December, scientists from the University of Cordoba (Spain)
revealed the very high caloric value of the fruit's pit, saying that it
has "optimal qualities as a source of thermal energy comparable to other
currently marketed biofuels." The pit contains an average calorific
value of 19,145 megajoules per kilogram.

In Cuba, the fruit is destined for domestic and tourist consumption, but
there is no industry for processing or extraction of the oil, much
appreciated in gastronomy and cosmetics. The authorities are currently
seeking investors to open a pilot plant for these purposes, industry
sources told 14ymedio.

In Cuba, the Antillean avocado variety is crossbred with its Guatemalan
relative and although the result is large fruit with consistent mass,
specialists say that it has low oil content compared to other varieties.

Private farmers distribute their crops among the markets that operate
based on supply and demand and the individually-operated businesses that
have flourished in the country in recent years. In this network the
value of the product has experienced an upward trend in recent years.

The increase in tourism has influenced the shortages of some foods, and
increased their prices, including avocados. "It's in high demand and
when it's in season it is one of the most requested dishes, especially
by foreigners," José Miguel, a waiter in a private restaurant in
Santiago de las Vegas, commented to this newspaper.

The self-employed worker says that "it is one of the products whose
price has risen most steeply in recent years." Last summer the street
price of the largest avocados neared 20 Cuban pesos each (nearly one
dollar US), the daily salary of a professional. "You can't get one for
five pesos any more even if you go directly to the fields."

The state markets sell avocados by the pound, at a price that does not
exceed 5 Cuban pesos (CUP), but as a rule they are small and unripe. "If
you go out in the morning looking for one to eat at lunch time, you have
to buy it from a pushcart vender or from a supply and demand market,"
José Miguel emphasizes.

The climate has also contributed to the rise in prices. Last year was
not a good year for avocado production on the island. Last September,
the agronomist Emilio Farrés Armenteros, director of the Fruit Trees
Division of the Agricola Business Group, told the official press that
the climatic conditions were damaging the harvest.

With the country experiencing the most intense drought of the last half
century, the rains did not arrive in time for the flowering of the
trees. A situation exacerbated by the exhaustion of the nutrients in the
soil due to the abundant production of 2015, which reached 120,000
tonnes. At the end of 2016, the avocado harvest totaled a much lower
90,000 tonnes.

Nancy and her husband are long-time avocado growers. In the area of
Jagüey Grande they have a plot where they harvest three varieties of the
fruit: Catalina, Wilson and Julio. The latter gives them more benefit
because it has an early harvest and the trees are smaller in size than
the others. However, both agree that "in the matter of taste, there is
nothing to compare to the Catalina avocado."

Farmers calculate that in a good year the harvest from each tree can
bring in 3,000 to 5,000 CUP depending on the fruit produced. "We
directly supply several restaurants and cafes in the area," says Nancy.
Although there are also "many wholesale buyers who take the fruit to
sell in markets in Havana."

The family aspires to be able to market their product beyond the
national borders. They believe that exporting part of their crop would
give them "greater profits and the possibility of investing in the
farm." They dream of earning the necessary resources for "a tractor and
a new water turbine."

However, the thaw with the United States is not enough to get Cuban
avocados on American tables. In the middle of last year Barack Obama
relaxed the regulations for the island's coffee growers who sold their
product to the US, and the official response from Cuba was not long in

A declaration signed by farm leaders in Santiago de Cuba joined the top
management of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP),
controlled by officialdom, in rejecting the measures implemented by the
White House. Since then, no local producer has sold a single coffee bean
to potential US customers.

Nevertheless, and although exporting is still an illusion, having an
avocado tree guarantees the economic sustenance of many families on the
island. Land with an orchard of fertile trees shoots up in price on the
classified ad sites, almost like those that contain a well or a house
with ceiling tiles.

Some owners of avocado trees have chosen to sell a full year's crop. "I
have an arrangement with a neighbor who paid me 2,000 CUP for all the
avocados in the orchard," says Tomas Garcia, a resident of Calabazar
south of the capital.

Retired from the Ministry of Construction, the man supplements his
monthly pension of less than 20 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $20 US)
with the sale of the tasty fruits from his patio. "One day my
mother-in-law threw a seed in the trash in a corner, and then we
realized that bush had sprouted." Garcia replanted the small plant in a
better place and, without knowing it, he made "the best investment in my
life," he acknowledges now.

Although he has never considered exporting his small crop, the pensioner
believes that "if something is good in this country, it is avocados that
need little care and can be planted in any yard." He says that in
addition to eating them from time to time he uses them to "give a shine
to my hair" and his wife uses it as an anti-wrinkle mask.

"If I don't have much to eat, I only have to cut an avocado in half and
now I have a rich person's meal instead of a poor person's," he said.

Source: Green Gold From Cuba's Fields – Translating Cuba -

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