(FinalCall.com)–The NAACP has reached an agreement with the Cuban government to buy food products from Black farmers, accessing that country’s $1.5 billion import agriculture market.
The deal was announced Nov. 15 by NAACP President/CEO Kwiesi Mfume and John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, after meeting with Pedro Alvarez, director of ALIMPORT, Cuba’s food import company.
“This is a historic announcement and one that I personally find very heartening,” said Mr. Mfume. “President Fidel Castro promised to establish trade links with Black farmers and it appears he has kept his word.”
Mr. Alvarez told Mr. Boyd that if Black farmers can deliver the many tons of food that Cuba wants to buy, “you will not be standing in line behind anyone.” Mr. Alvarez said that in the next year Cuba would be buying more than $1 billion worth of food.
More talks are expected between Mr. Alvarez and Mr. Boyd to iron out the final agreements before signing a contract for food items such as rice, chicken quarters, flour and other grocery products.
“On behalf of the 12,000 full-time and 7,000 part-time Black farmers, we certainly appreciate this opportunity to do business in Cuba,” said Mr. Boyd. Black farmers had previously tried to negotiate a similar deal with Cuba but were unsuccessful.
The NAACP will now press major agricultural corporations that export to Cuba to partner with Black farmers. Under U.S. law enacted in 2000, Cuba is allowed to make cash purchases of food and agricultural products from United States farmers.
“African American farmers want to aggressively pursue business opportunities in Cuba, the same as major farm cooperatives and agribusinesses corporations that have traveled to Cuba and sold hundreds of millions of dollars of food to Cuba in the past two years,” said Mr. Mfume.
According to the NAACP, there are 10,000 U.S. corporations doing business in Cuba.
A piece of the pie
The NAACP is reaching out to Black farmers through groups such as the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association headed by Gary Grant and the Southern Federation of Black Farmers run by Ralph Page. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cuba is expected to purchase $165 million in food and agriculture products from American farmers.
“This is a very good deal,” Mr. Page told The Final Call. “This will be good for Black farmers and it will be good for Cubans. We’re looking forward to the challenge and we’re thrilled about it.”
Not only will Black farmers have access to the Cuban market through direct sales, Mr. Alvarez explained that the Cuban government will also look at whether or not other companies that want to do business in Cuba are partnering with Black farmers.
NAACP Washington Bureau director Hilary O. Shelton, said, “The Cubans will also look at who are trustworthy companies for them to deal with. For example, they may look at Tyson’s Foods and ask are they good partners with Black farmers? If they’re partnering with Black farmers, we’ll consider doing business with them.
“It was refreshing to hear President Fidel Castro talk about the racism Black farmers face and how Cuba plans to help them overcome it. He has a clear understanding of the plight of Black farmers,” said Mr. Shelton.
The NAACP’s role will be to work with the Black farmers to coordinate their capacity to get their goods to market. The key is to make sure Black farmers can deliver and deliver on time to their neighbors 90 miles off the coast of Florida.
“This is going to take a lot of work,” said Mr. Page.
Cuba wants to import chicken leg quarters. “Black farmers have to consider what they’re going to do with the other three quarters of the chicken,” explained Mr. Shelton. “They have to understand how to do this so it’s profitable for everyone.”
“We’ll be working with them so they can produce the goods to meet the market demand and timeline. Their prices have to be competitive and they have to be able to ship the goods to port,” he said.
The NAACP’s four-day trip to Cuba was part of their overall objective to establish people-to-people contacts both inside and outside of the United States. In addition to the farm deal, the 18-member delegation of national board members and senior staff met with President Fidel Castro, dissidents and examined the country’s health and education systems.
President Castro met for four hours with the delegation November 12. It was during that meeting that President Castro directed Mr. Alvarez to meet with Mr. Boyd and the NAACP to explore ways for Black farmers to win agriculture contracts.
At the suggestion of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, the delegation met with Cuban dissidents at the home of James Cassan, chief of the United States Interest Section. The dissidents claim that under the leadership of President Castro, the Cuban people are denied freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
The dissident leaders included Oswaldo Alfonso, Dr. Oscar Biscet and his wife, Elsa Morejon, Vladmiro Roca and Oswaldo Jose Paya Sardinas. Mr. Sardinas is an organizer of the Varela Project, a petition drive calling for a referendum so citizens can decide upon change in the government from within.