HAVANA TIMES — Interested in recovering its declining coconut industry, the Cuban government is currently planning to enter into a partnership with one of the world’s top producers of the fruit, the remote island of Sri Lanka.
This past June, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture welcomed Sri Lanka’s highest coconut industry authorities with a view to ratifying a Memorandum of Understanding on the Development of the Coconut Industry which had been signed by the two governments in June of 2012.
Cuban Minister of Agriculture Gustvo Rodriguez Rollero received the Sri Lankan Coconut Industry Development Minister, who visited Cuba in the company of the Chair of the State Board for Coconut Research HPM Gunasena, Director of the Coconut Research Institute Jayantha Gunathillake and Chair of the Coconut Cultivation Board Sarath Keerthiratne.
A Very Important Industry
According to reports published by the Sri Lankan press, the delegation was welcomed at the headquarters of Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture in Havana, where Rodriguez Rollero informed the visitors of “the current situation of Cuba’s coconut industry and its importance to the Cuban people and economy.”
Coconut palms are the world’s most widely cultivated plants and the chief source of vegetable oils, heavily demanded by the soap and perfume industries. Coconut pulp is also ideal for the preparation of preserves and nut milk.
Producing over 954 thousand tons a year, Sri Lanka is among the five largest coconut producers in the world.
The Ministry of Agriculture official thanked the Sri Lankan delegation for its “enthusiastic commitment to encouraging cooperation in the coconut industry.” The two ministers affirmed their continued determination to work together and develop a joint plan of action to implement the Memorandum of Understanding for the Development of the Coconut Industry, to entail the exchange of delegations, knowledge and experience, technology transfers and the extension of cooperation in research and technology issues related to the handling of coconut palms. In short, the two governments appear serious about their plans for the coconut industry.
Minister Pushpakumara invited Rodriguez Rollero to visit Sri Lanka in the very near future (reportedly, following permission from Raul Castro, the minister will be able to do so soon, between meetings of the Council of Ministers).
Coconut Palms in Eastern Cuba
Following their meeting, the Sri Lankan delegation paid a three-day visit to several of Cuba’s eastern provinces, beginning their tour at Baracoa, considered the Cuban coconut capital. Baracoa is not only home to the largest coconut plantations in the country, but also to the fruit’s processing and research facilities.
The tour also included other regions with coconut plantations, such as Granma and Ciego de Avila.
After considering Cuba’s coconut situation, Minister Pushpakumara affirmed that Sri Lanka would help train Cuban personnel, transfer knowledge and technology to Cuba needed to introduce new product lines, a broader variety of coconut plants and other management techniques.
In exchange, Cuba is to assist Sri Lanka in the acquisition of technical knowledge and technology.
The news that Cuba should offer Sri Lanka technical assistance for its coconut industry cannot but strike us as odd.
Cuba is developing an ecologically friendly agricultural technology aimed at increasing coconut outputs, through an experiment being conducted at Guantanamo’s Soil Research Station. The project is experimenting with coconut plantations where the fruit is sown next to pineapples, plantains, cassavas, sweet potatoes, coffee, cocoa and yams. Those involved in the experiment report that it is yielding promising results.
Coconuts, Plantains and Cassavas
It remains to be seen whether Sri Lankans will find it advisable to set this initiative in motion in their own country. Cubans have unsuccessfully been trying to bolster the production of plantains, cassavas, sweet potatoes, coffee, cocoa and yams for a long time – and it seems unlikely that the mixed-crop coconut plantations will bring about the miracle that turns Cuban agriculture’s luck around.
What is certain is that they ought to be careful, for nothing less than their country’s means of sustenance is at stake. Nearly 22 percent of the caloric intake of Sri Lankans is accounted for by coconuts. The average Sri Lankan consumes some 120 coconuts a year.
If the coconut industry does manage to prosper in Cuba, we may be at the gates of a new economic salvation for the country, like the many we have known thanks to Caturra coffee, Ubre Blanca (Cuba’s milk-producing super-cow of the 80s), MicroJet plantains, Bufala yogurt and goose-meat pate, let alone the promising moringa plant.
Such prospects might be believable if the year 2006 were not so fresh in our memories. That year, according to official data, Cuba had to import 300 tons of tomato from China, 395 tons of guava from Brazil and 50 tons of coconut pulp from Sri Lanka just to guarantee the production of La Conchita sweets. The whole thing is a tough nut to crack.