Untapped Potential of Cuba's Citrus and Tropical Fruit Industry

Cuba dominates the Caribbean in terms of land area, population, and agricultural production. The ongoing U.S. embargo now prevents Cuba from having much impact on intra-American trade. If the embargo were lifted, however, U.S. exports to Cuba could rival or exceed those to the rest of the Caribbean. Cuban exports to the United States could compete with U.S. producers, particularly in Florida, for some fruit and vegetable products. Reopening of U.S.-Cuban trade could provide markets and foreign exchange to spur Cuban economic growth to significantly higher levels.

Cuba began to restructure its economy in the early 1990s in response to the economic crisis that followed the elimination of subsidies from the former Soviet Union. The crisis forced Cuba to move toward a more open economy and more market-oriented trade. The Government broke up many large state farms, provided farmer incentives to increase production, and allowed farmers markets where after-quota production can be sold at free-market prices. If its economy continues to restructure, Cuba could become an increasingly important agricultural importer and exporter.

Cuba has an ideal climate and land resources for citrus and tropical fruit production. Fruit production has been growing since the 1950s, spurred by demand from a rapidly growing population. Growth accelerated in the mid-1990s with new incentives arising from government-sponsored garden programs, the establishment of private, price-oriented agricultural markets, and the restructuring of state farms. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, tropical fruit production expanded to 517,000 metric tons in 2002, more than double its level in 1990.

Urban gardens and larger more intensive gardens on the edges of cities and towns grow much of Cuba’s tropical fruit. These gardens use little in the way of purchased chemicals, fertilizers, and other inputs and depend heavily on labor. Intensive intercropping with tropical fruit trees provides vegetables critical shade from the hot tropical sun.

Cuba’s export prospects will likely hinge on access to nearby, high-income markets like Canada and the United States. If the U.S. embargo were lifted, Cuba’s citrus industry would likely look for markets in the United States for fresh citrus, processed citrus products, and citrus byproducts. In turn, Cuba’s citrus industry could become a market for U.S. exports of technology, citrus rootstock and other inputs, and capital. U.S.-Cuban partnerships might develop to partially integrate citrus production, processing, and marketing for U.S. markets. Initially, Cuba might even look to U.S. sources for high-quality tropical fruits for Cuba’s growing tourist market. Eventually, as Cuba’s economy and tropical fruit sector recover, U.S. consumers could provide opportunities for an increasingly competitive Cuban tropical fruit sector.