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What can Canada’s agricultural tech sector learn from Cuba?

FIHAV Tuesday was Canada Day at the 33rd annual FIHAV (Feria Internacional de La Habana) International trade fair in Havana, presided over by Canada’s ambassador to Cuba, Yves Gagnon, Quebec’s Minister of Foreign Relations, Christine St-Pierre, and Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero.

“This is going to be a great opportunity to strengthen both trade relations and investment interests between Cuba and Canada,” said Marrero to Carribean News, noting that Canada had climbed from fifth to fourth largest trading partner with Cuba during the past year, behind Venezuela, China and Spain.

This year’s fair wouldn’t be unusual, except that this is the first appearance for American companies after Cuba and the United States announced the renewal of diplomatic relations.

Although Cuba has become something of a leader in agricultural technology following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it still has a lot of work to do, but also has much to teach the rest of the world about the progress it has made.

Most of Cuba’s farmers remain essentially peasant farmers whose activity has almost no environmental oversight and still uses old-fashioned pesticides, but Cuba’s agricultural technology sector has been working to turn that tide.

Some of Cuba’s agricultural technologies, presented by the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, may hold a few lessons for Canada.

For example, an eco-friendly insecticide called HeberNem guards crops from roundworms.

An immunogen called Gavac, developed by the Heber Biotec company, reduces the use of chemical insecticides by improving cattle’s natural capacity to fend off a tick-borne infection without increasing their resistance to the treatment.

While Gavac has already been commercialized in Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, it’s awaiting approval for Nicaragua, Panama and Costa Rica.

And a nutritional complement called Acuabio fosters the growth of ocean crops such as shrimp, by enhancing the immune systems of larvae, ensuring that they reach maturity with a much lesser rate of infection and illness.

While Canada’s AgTech sector attracted $38 million in venture capital investment in 2014, the FIHAV trade fair represents a good opportunity to examine what Cuban innovators are deploying in their agricultural practice.

Some 900 companies are on hand for the trade fair, which runs from November 2-7, showcasing the products of 4,500 exhibitors from 70 countries to approximately 150,000 visitors and participants.

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