Last spring, students in the management class An Introduction to Global Entrepreneurship traveled to Cuba to learn more about that emerging market. As part of the class, students visited an organic farm in Havana that provides meat, dairy, and vegetables for a local restaurant.
“Farmers have to be very resourceful in Cuba since they can’t afford to buy fertilizers and pesticides,” says Senior Lecturer Steve Spruth, who teaches the management class. “Consequently, they have a very advanced system of organic farming. Likewise, restaurants have to be very resourceful obtaining the food ingredients that they need for their dishes.”
One of the students in the class was Clyde Carver, a junior majoring in both Management Information Systems and International Business. “The premise was we were going to get to know industries within Cuba and what entrepreneurs are bringing to those industries,” he says. “Cuba is Communist, but it’s growing its private sector, partially fostered by the government and partially in spite of the government.”
An independent venture
Carver found it interesting the way farmers work with the government. It isn’t feasible for the government to completely control the agricultural sector, but it does control the prices. “The government names a quote and the farm doesn’t have a choice with what it gets,” Carver says. “It’s an interesting dynamic you don’t see in the United States. Most crop prices are determined by the free market.”
The farmer Carver met seemed generally content with the exchange he was getting. “He felt like he worked for himself. He ran the farm and has a lot of people that work for him. It’s his operation, it’s his place, his house, his family lives there, the guy definitely ran the show,” Carver says. However, he continued saying, “Could the government by law theoretically take it all? Possibly. That’s kind of the scary thing about Communism.”
Carver found the farm site beautiful, large, and expansive—almost like a resort in some areas. “I couldn’t see the borders necessarily from any particular spot,” Carver says. The farmer was raising several kinds of animals, including goats, pigs, and varieties of poultry. “We got to see entrepreneurial things they did on a farm. The farmer was actually growing a Chinese plant that is a super-efficient animal feed,” Carver says. “He made the feed for his animals from his own crops in the most efficient way possible. There were levels of self-sustenance I couldn’t have foreseen.”
As part of the class, students were assigned a product on which to make entrepreneurial recommendations. Carver was assigned the tobacco plant. Unfortunately, the farm he visited did not grow tobacco, so he did not see it in its native state. However, he did come up with a solid plan. “We said they should use tobacco as a biofuel for a number of reasons,” he says. “For one thing, it’s not a food item, which is beneficial because biofuels tend to compete with the food supply from time to time. Also, Cuba has a competitive edge from its location on the Earth. It grows nice tobacco and lots of it.”
The Cuban government actually manufactures the tobacco seed. It has labs that test the seeds each year and distributes them to the farmers. “They have extensive knowledge of growing tobacco,” Carver says.
It’s not certain whether the Cuban government will follow Carver’s recommendation, but it is certain that Carver will never forget Cuba. “It was a really cool experience,” he says. “Of all the site visits, it was the most memorable to me.”