MIAMI – With their land and their livihoods on the line, America’s Black farmers have been locked in a battle with the federal government over equal access to low interest loans, grants and other aid. Now they hope to tap the emerging Cuban market, one that agribusiness giants have largely claimed for themselves.
Members of the National Black Farmers Association and the NAACP traveled to Havana in November, joining a long list of members of Congress and farm state lobbyists who have visited this year to promote everything from California beans to Illinois grains.
In two meetings with President Fidel Castro, delegation members said they received verbal assurances that the socialist country will buy directly from Black farmers.
“He gave me his word he would do business with African-American farmers,” said John Boyd, a fourth-generation Virginia farmer and president of the association. “We’ve had a lot of difficulty competing with the big boys because when we bid on a contract they say they can do it cheaper.”
The National Black Farmers Association put together a deal for Cuba to buy $10 million worth of soy, corn, rice and chicken.
While several hundred Black farmers would share the profits, Cuba’s cash contracts would help give them security when borrowing money from the bank or planning next year’s crop, Boyd said.
By comparison, agribusiness leader Cargill sealed a $17 million deal for corn, soy meal and turkey during the first U.S. Food and Agribusiness Exhibition in September.
“We’re talking about a country that’s 70 percent of African descent, that’s 90 miles from our shores,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau. “A country whose leadership has shown a great interest for concerns that have confronted the African-American community. If you compare the Cuban government to other governments in Latin America, they’re … head and shoulders above the rest in terms of integration.”
Since last December, Cuba has bought about $200 million in American food. Only two years ago Cuba was last on the list of U.S. export markets. Today it ranks about 50th, because of the cash-only food sales. A contract between the socialist country and the National Black Farmers Association is currently being negotiated.