When the Caribbean state was no longer able to afford pesticides – which have been linked with declining bee populations – it made a virtue out of a necessity
9 Feb 2016
Long known for its cigars and rum, Cuba has added organic honey to its list of key agricultural exports, creating a buzz among farmers as pesticide use has been linked to declining bee populations elsewhere.
Organic honey has become Cuba’s fourth most valuable agricultural export behind fish products, tobacco and drinks, but ahead of the Caribbean island’s more famous sugar and coffee, said Theodor Friedrich, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) representative for Cuba.
“All of [Cuba’s] honey can be certified as organic,” Friedrich told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Its honey has a very specific, typical taste; in monetary value, it’s a high-ranking product.“
After the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main trading partner, the island was unable to afford pesticides due to a lack of foreign currency, coupled with the US trade embargo. By necessity, the government embraced organic agriculture, and the policies have largely stuck.
Now that the United States is easing its embargo following the restoration of diplomatic ties last year, Cuba’s organic honey exporters could see significant growth if the government supports the industry, bee keepers said.
Cuba produced more than 7,200 tonnes of organic honey in 2014, worth about $23.3m, according to government statistics cited by the FAO.
The country’s industry is still tiny compared with honey heavyweights such as China, Turkey and Argentina. But with a commodity worth more per litre than oil, Cuban honey producers believe they could be on the verge of a lucrative era.
With 80 boxes swarming with bees, each producing 45kg (100lb) of honey a year, farm manager Javier Alfonso believes Cuba’s exports could grow markedly in the coming years.