The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) led a delegation of stakeholders in agricultural research and development (AR&D) to the Republic of Cuba from 22 – 26 September 2014 to meet with Cuban authorities to discuss avenues for partnership and collaboration between African and Cuban AR&D institutions and agribusiness enterprises. The mission was led by Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, FARA’s Executive Director and accompanied by Dr. Emmanuel Tambi, FARA’s Head of Policy and Advocacy; Dr. Emmanuel Okogbenin, Director of Research and Technology of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Nairobi, Kenya; Prof. Timothy Simalenga, Executive Director of the Center for the Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development in Southern Africa, Gaborone, Botswana; Mr. Brian Mwanamambo Head of Agribusiness Incubation Trust Limited (AgBiT), Lusaka, Zambia; and Ms. Marie Nkom Tamoifo, Head of Association Jeunesse Verte du Cameroun, Yaounde, Cameroon.
In spite of the economic challenges confronting the Republic of Cuba, the country has made significant progress in the improvement of the wellbeing of its people. This has been due largely to technological advances in the fields of human and animal health, agriculture, food and nutrition. Cuba’s huge investment in the “Polo Cientifico” and the Bio-Technological sector has enabled the country to build a professional and institutional foundation for future success in pharmaceutical and other scientific areas. Today, Cuba is exporting new technologies, medical and agricultural products and services to several developing countries including those of Africa. Given the many similarities between Cuba and the African continent, there are a lot of best practices and ‘ready-to-adapt’ technology take-away to learn from Cuba in order to quickly enhance the health, food and nutrition security of African people. The FARA Delegation to Cuba falls within the ambit of FARA’s strategic functions to facilitate collective action around the promotion of technologies, strengthen capacity to enhance the functionality of agricultural technologies and build partnerships to enhance broad-based agricultural productivity and competitiveness; particularly in the context of South-South collaboration.
Meeting with Dr. Maricela Rodriguez, Mr. Antonio Casanas and Mr. Juan Jose Vega of the International Affairs Division of the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI), Dr. Yemi stated that this mission was inspired by a previous FARA Delegation mission to Cuba in April 2014 which observed the use of improved technologies in Cuban agriculture and how Africa could learn and benefit from such technologies. On her part, Dr. Maricela Rodriguez expressed the need for greater partnership between MINAGRI and FARA through an MoU to be developed and signed between the two organizations.
In addition to meeting with staff of the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, the FARA Delegation participated in the LABIOFAM 2014 International Congress co-organized at the Havana International Conference Center from 22nd to 25th September, 2014 by the Entrepreneurial Group LABIOFAM, Pan-American Health Organization, Cuban Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Organized under the theme: Natural Products in Cancer Therapy, the International Congress is also addressing issues of Biopesticides, Biofertilizers and Biostimulants for Agriculture. Scientists and professionals from more than 20 countries attended the congress that presented and discussed more than 150 scientific papers during the four-day congress.
Welcoming the 500 plus participants from over 20 countries to Havana, Cuba, the President of LABIOFAM Dr. Jose Antonio Fraga Castro stated that LABIOFAM grew from 6 professional in 1960 when it was established to more than 2,000 professional staff today. Now, LABIOFAM produces medicines, vaccines and bioproducts that help to prevent, control and treat major human and animal diseases in developed and developing countries. Dr. Castro underscored the strategic role of LABIOFAM in the development and transfer of new technologies and innovations as well as the relevance of its bioproducts in the fields of human and animal health, agriculture, food and nutrition.
Meeting with the FARA Delegation, the Deputy Director of LABIOFAM Entrepreneurial Group Dr. Isbel Gonzalez Marrero and Director of Exports Dr. Alfredo Vera Estrada both explained how LABIOFAM has and continues to develop, register and commercialize several biological products across the globe. Adding that LABIOFAM is in the process of establishing production units in Tanzania, Angola and Ghana for the manufacture of biological products to tackle pests and diseases, Dr. Estrada called on FARA to facilitate the identification of commercial agri-business partners in Africa to invest in this sector.
Addressing the more than 500 participants including Ministers from Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana and Zimbabwe at the closing ceremony of the Congress, Dr. Yemi paid tribute to Cuba for the humanitarian assistance it has provided and continues to provide to Africa. He said Africa and Cuba have a lot in common and to share in the fields of health, food and nutrition security and expressed Africa’s gratitude to Cuba for the recent technical support to combat the Ebola disease in West Africa. Noting the positive economic growth trajectory for Africa, Dr. Yemi said Cuban interest in Africa is timely to take advantage of this market of the future. LABIOFAM’s collaboration and partnership with FARA and its constituent stakeholders, he said, will enable greater visibility in Africa and linkages to agri-business partners in Africa.
Responding on the part of the AATF, Dr. Okogbenin expressed the need to address the ‘access to technology’ gap, particularly through the facilitation of public private partnerships (PPP) between African and Cuban entities to promote the uptake of LABIOFAM technologies and products. On her part and representing youths in Central Africa, Ms. Marie Nkom stated that youths in Africa could benefit from Cuban know-how in agriculture. She expressed the need for a Youth in Agriculture Exchange Program between Africa and Cuba to enable young African people set up small agri-businesses.
FARA and LABIOFAM sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
At the margins of the International Congress LABIOFAM 2014 and the 3rd International Symposium on Products for Cancer Therapy, LABIOFAM and FARA signed an MoU to establish a strategic partnership between the two organizations in areas of bio-products, agricultural research, technology dissemination and adaptation, science and technology. The MoU is underpinned by the missions of FARA and LABIOFAM to increase agricultural productivity in order to enhance food and nutrition security, human wellbeing and poverty reduction in Africa and Cuba. The MoU builds on the technological advances achieved by Cuba in the fields of agriculture and human health, and how this can be of benefit to the African continent.
In signing the MoU, LABIOFAM and FARA agreed to: Exchange information, new technologies and innovations in the agriculture and agri-business sector; collaborate in the promotion of products and services of each other in the areas of bio-products technologies and business; organize business meetings for businessmen from Africa and Cuba aimed at fostering commercial relationships in the field of agriculture and agri-business; facilitate the exchange of business delegations in the framework of congresses, events, seminars, fairs, exhibitions or any other activity developed between Cuba and Africa for the benefit of the expansion of commercial relationships in agriculture and agri-business; and maintain expeditious communication and exchange of information between the two organizations.