Trying to help relieve “bottlenecks,”Â Brazil’s state agriculture research institute Embrapa is committed to increasing its cooperation with Cuba beyond four existing projects, Embrapa President MaurĂcio Antonio LopesÂ said during a visit of Cuban Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca in Brasilia.
Malmierca told Lopes, who just began his tenure at Embrapa, that Cuba could produce 70 percent of the food it currently imports.
Brazil turned into an agro-business powerhouse over the past two decades;Â Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa AgropecuĂˇria (Embrapa) is considered the world’s leading institution on tropical agriculture.
Embrapa currently operates four cooperation projects in Cuba, including one on soy and corn production, one to diversify sugar production, one on development and know-how transfer in biological pest control, and one on reducing heavy metals in agricultural products. All projects are funded by Brazil’s foreign-aid agency ABC (AgĂŞncia Brasileira de CooperaĂ§ĂŁo).
The meeting included Embrapa’s finance and technology transfer directors.
In August, Brazil signed a memorandum of understanding for a $200 million loan from Brazil to fund Mais Alimentos Cuba, a food safety program on the island.Â Cuba is the first non-African country to participate in the â€śMore Foodâ€ť program, run by Brazilâ€™s Ministry for Agricultural Development. Started in 2008, â€śMais Alimentosâ€ť isÂ designed to strengthen family farming and bolster food production. The $200 million loan is supposed to allow some of the more than 170,000 private farmers in Cuba to buy Brazilian-made tractors and other equipment, and help them benefit from Brazilian training and technology transfer. The loan, good through 2015, will be released in three tranches.
In addition, Brazil is providing Cuba a rotating credit facility of $400 million for food purchases in the South American country.
Early this year,Â Brazilâ€™s Grupo Odebrecht said that a subsidiary will form a joint production agreement with state company Azcuba to operate a sugar mill in the province of Cienfuegos.Â Although the production agreement is a notch below a direct investment, this is the first time a foreign company becomes active in Cubaâ€™s sugar industry.Â Companhia de Obras e Infraestrutura (COI), an Odebrecht subsidiary that is also the foreign partner in the Brazilian-financed expansion of the Port of Mariel, said it will sign a 10-year agreement to operate the 5 de Septiembre sugar mill.
While Odebrecht has experience in operating sugar mills in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, the bigger prize for foreign investors in Cubaâ€™s sugar industry is ethanol production and electricity generation. A Brazilian foreign ministry spokesman told reporters in January Â that Cuba is about to engage in ethanol production, asÂ â€śFidelâ€™s resistance in this field is being overcome.â€ť The historic leader of the revolution has maintained in his opinion columns that ethanol reduces food production and raises food prices.Â Odebrechtâ€™s bioenergy division is one of Brazilâ€™s largest ethanol producers.