British investor gives jolt to Cuban coffee

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CUBA STANDARD — A British company started by ex-treasury and trade minister Phillip Oppenheim signed an agreement to invest in Cuban coffee.

The $4 million investment by Oppenheim’s Cuba Mountain Coffee Co. Ltd. is not only the first by a foreign company in Cuban coffee, but the agreement is also one of the first of foreign investors involving private entities in Cuba.

Harvest yields of Cuban coffee have been in decline, although recently the quality has increased thanks to an emphasis on higher-end organic varieties. In an effort to revert declining yields and reduce food imports, the Cuban government is encouraging private farming.

Under an agreement signed with the Cuban government, Oppenheim’s company will buy Cuban-grown Arabica coffee and invest in small-scale, private coffee farming in Southeast Cuba over five years.

In September, Oppenheim — a former Conservative member of parliament — started Alma de Cuba, a UK-based Website that sells high-end Cuban coffee.

The $4 million investment will go into nursery, root stocks, and improvement of coffee bean processing to raise quality, Oppenheim told the Telegraph. The company roasts and packages the Cuban coffee in Britain.

“We get these very rare coffee beans, and the Cuban farmers get what they need to grow more,” he said, according to the Telegraph.

Foreign observers say European investment in agriculture is meaningful, if started on a small scale.

“Technical assistance and cooperation in agriculture makes sense, especially on something boutique like coffee,” said one foreign businessman in Havana who declined to go on the record.

Oppenheim also owns a Cuba-themed bar in London.

The signing coincides with the three-day Cuba visit of a British business delegation heavy on agriculture and renewable energy. A business forum in Havana included a workshop on investments in agriculture today.

To increase production and curb food imports, the Cuban government encourages the opening of private businesses, Deputy Minister of Agriculture Moraima CĂ©spedes told British businesspeople at the forum, according to Prensa Latina.

“We are making progress in granting land to producers, improving the productive base and in the commercialization,” she said.

Oppenheim will sell the Cuban coffee via his Alma de Cuba Website

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