“To tell you the truth, at the beginning I didn’t believe in this project… But I have changed my mind,” said Leonardo Yorlis Lopez Moreira, a farmer of the Gabriel Valente cooperative in Cuba’s Eastern province of Guantanamo. His change of heart happened in little more than six months after the start of the World Food Programme project in Guantanamo and Matanzas provinces to improve food security.
We have learned a lot!” admits Mr Lopez Moreira, who produces beans for the cooperative. “Working with WFP to prepare a business plan for our cooperative and for our own farm has been very good. We had no idea about production costs, or what it took for our production to reach the table of those people who really need it. Now we know how to calculate costs and we can apply it not only to the beans but to everything we do”.
The formulation of business plans is part of the support provided by WFP to 1,500 farmers in this project financed by Canada. It has two simple and interlinked goals: to increase the farmers and cooperatives’ production of beans, Cuba’s main staple food; and, to provide the right amount and quality of beans for meals provided by the national safety net programmes to some 61,000 people in schools, centers for elderly people and maternity homes in the two provinces where the project is active.
By the end of its three-year duration, this initiative aims to increase bean production to meet 50 percent of the needs of the Guantanamo province for its safety-net programmes. At the moment, the province only produces enough to cover 30 percent of those needs.
This approach will also be applied in other provinces of Cuba as part of the newly launched WFP Country Programme for 2015-2018, designed to support Cuba’s efforts to update its economic model. Improving agricultural production, and improving the efficiency, and sustainability of social protection programmes, while ensuring that no Cuban is left unprotected is central to this process.
Consulted, congregated and trained
Through a very participatory process of consultation, farmers, cooperative leaders, and representatives of all the other levels of the beans’ value chain – from production to consumption – identified their needs.
“The fact that you first trained us; that we had the opportunity to learn makes this project a pioneer. I had never heard about value chain. Now I have new tools to work and to increase my production”, said Juana Nápoles Guzmán, president of the Sabino Pupo farmers’ cooperative, also in the Guantanamo province. “The plan is to increase the production of beans from 0.7 metric tons per hectare to 1.3… but, I want to do it by next year!”
More than 20 Cuban and international technical, social and financial partners are working with WFP on this project. “Bringing us all together to work towards the same goal has been a great gift. Having all different levels of expertise all integrated has been very innovative for us”, said Enrique Cagdevila, a lecturer at the University of Guantanamo who has been training and supporting the members of the nine cooperatives on the formulation of business plans.
Women’s contribution to the bean value chain is often invisible. Very few women are members of the cooperative, and their work is considered as pure support to that of men. But that too, seems to be changing.
“In my cooperative among more than 160 members there were only four women. But since I became president, in December 2014, the number of women has increased to 41 and I want to make sure that more women become involved in this project”, said Nápoles Guzmán.
The extensive network of partners involved in this project include the National Association of Smallholder Farmers, the Soil Institute, the National Seed Company (ES), the Credit and Commerce Bank, National Insurance Company, the Water Resource Institute, as well as the Guantanamo University, the Provincial Health and Education Departments, the Federation of Cuban Women, Oxfam and the Government of Canada.