“Today I had the opportunity to meet with Cuban fruit and vegetable farmers in the Antero Regalado Agricultural Cooperative in Güira de Melena, and hog and sheep producers in the Niceto Pérez Livestock Cooperative. They talked openly about the membership structure of their cooperatives, and they share many of the same concerns that face American farmers, such as climate change and pests, in addition to their own unique challenges with irrigation and equipment. I look forward to seeing more Americans have the opportunity for conversations and exchanging of ideas with their Cuban counterparts like I have had over the past few days. Throughout history, agriculture has served as a bridge to foster cooperation, and I have no doubt that agriculture will continue to play that powerful role as we expand our relationship with the Cuban people in the coming years.” – Secretary Vilsack
Last week, I was part of the first USDA team to visit Cuba since U.S. Government offices were closed there in 1961, and I was the third U.S. Cabinet official to visit the island since President Obama announced his intent to resume relations with Cuba late last year. Food and agricultural goods are the dominant U.S. exports to Cuba, and it is my firm belief—and one that appears to be shared by the Cuban people and government officials—that agriculture can serve as a bridge to foster cooperation, understanding and the exchange of ideas.
Several members of Congress from states with strong agriculture economies also made the trip, including Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and U.S. Representatives Terri Sewell of Alabama, Suzan Del Bene of Washington and Kurt Schrader of Oregon. We were able to meet with counterparts in the Cuban government, as well as farmers, farmers market operators, and both urban and rural citizens, just as the USDA team and I do on a regular basis in the United States. We learned from Cuban farmers that they are fighting many of the same pests and diseases that American farmers face, such as citrus greening, and saw that cooperation could lead to faster eradication.
USDA has made a collection of photos from the visit, like the one above, available on Flickr.com/USDAgov. I encourage those interested in Cuba’s food, agriculture, and community to take a glance at all that we saw and accomplished last week.
Expanding markets for American agriculture has been a priority for this Administration, and relationships like the one we are building with Cuba are crucial to continuing the momentum we have seen over the past six years. USDA will continue to work with commodity groups and U.S. businesses interested in exporting to Cuba, building on the common ground that we share in agricultural interests with this neighboring country.