Representatives of Maine's fisheries, apples, seed potatoes and vegetable seeds traveled to explore export opportunities in Cuba last May and an expanded delegation returned this October.

After a first visit in May, to develop a pipeline of Maine agricultural products for export to Cuba, representatives of Maine's fisheries, apples, sustainable farming and vegetable seeds returned to Cuba, to met with buyers and top officials from Cuba's Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG) on  Oct. 12, 2022.

The agricultural mission, the second of a two-phase delegation effort, is led by long-time facilitator, Doyle Marchant, President of Cedar Spring Agricultural Co. LLC, who organized the meeting following the direct invitation of the Cuba Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG).

Back in May Marchant told National Fisherman that “the expanded delegation in October will include representatives in the forest products and livestock medical products industries. At this time, Maine fisheries are well represented for the October delegation.”  Representing the fisheries was Robert Odlin, owner of Odlin Family Seaföod, a family that has fished from the Portland waterfront for three generations. 

Doyle Marchant told National Fisherman then that “the fisheries portion of the delegation was formed to present the Cape Shark as a potential high-protein, low cost fish for Cuba. Developing this species for export expands the fishery for Maine coastal fishermen, processors and cold storage facilities. The Cape Shark can be shipped as processed loins or as minimally-processed whole fish to provide food and allow for processing the by-products in Cuba into fertilizer for crops.”

The goal of this follow-up mission was to solidify purchases of Maine agricultural goods and initiate a pipeline of goods from Maine to Cuba. The efforts were once more aided by Cedar Spring Agricultural's representative in Havana, Ramiro Triana Abreu, who ensured that delegates met with decision makers on the Cuban side of the table.

The meetings were commenced with a welcome from MINAG's Vice-minister of Agriculture, Msc. Maury Hechavarria Bermudéz and Director of International Relations, Orlando Diaz Rodriguez. After remarks from Mr. Marchant, the delegates adjourned to working tables within three product areas:

Food Products

Robert Odlin, Owner of Odlin Family Seaföod and president of the Portland Fish Exchange board returned to Havana to negotiate for the export of frozen seafood.

Adam Brock, Owner of Brock Orchards, Lyman, Maine, presented several varieties of apples to sell to Cuba for both tourist and consumer markets. As a third-generation Maine apple grower, Brock is hoping Cuba will present a new, reliable market for his apple crops on a sustained basis.

Vegetable Seeds & Sustainable Farming

Joshua Miller, International Sales Manager, Johnny's Selected Seeds, returned to identify specific seed varieties to provide as samples that will produce the best crop for Cuba's specific growing conditions.

Florence Reed, Founder and Director of Strategic Growth for Sustainable Harvest International presented the opportunity to collaborate with Cuba to help their farmers increase harvests using sustainable practices that address the challenges of obtaining fertilizer for crops in Cuba. She has worked with Johnny's Select Seeds in other countries over the past 20 years of promoting sustainable agriculture.

Cattle Husbandry

Juan Pablo Muriel, Latin America sales manager and area director of marketing for Select Sires, Inc. discussed potential sales of bull semen and embryo products into Cuba to boost the quality of both beef and dairy cattle. Select Sires Inc. has extensive experience in producing cattle bred to thrive in tropical climates.

"All participants departed these targeted meetings with distinct goals and next steps for preparing to ship containers of seafood and apples, as well as orders for seeds and cattle husbandry products," Marchant explained.

Building a strong Maine-Cuba relationship

Spanning more than two decades, Marchant has a long history of working to bring Maine products to Cuba. The Cuban government recently initiated new steps to develop a more self-sustaining economy. After significant destruction in the agricultural region of Pinar del Rio province, these efforts for both products and expertise are a high priority.

Marchant's goals are to establish an annual pipeline of agricultural products to the Cuban population and tourism industry. He has learned through these years that the true currency is not the dollar but trust. It is that trust that is the backbone of all his international efforts.

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Jose Antunes is a freelance journalist who writes about technology, software, photography and video.

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