HAVANA, Cuba--On a small farm outside Havana, a Cuban family-run business produces gluten-free flour from banana, coconut and yucca, preferring locally-sourced ingredients to pricey imports as Cubans seek innovative solutions to a growing food crisis.
Cuba purchases most of the food it consumes from abroad, but revenues have plunged following the coronavirus pandemic, hampered by stiff US sanctions and floundering tourism, once a mainstay of the Caribbean island economy.
That has led some, such as 38-year-old entrepreneur Gabriel Perez, to look for alternatives.
"There is a crisis, that is undeniable," said Perez, who recently sold a home and business to settle on farmland in the rural outskirts of Havana. "But in Cuba it stems in part from a lack of culture around eating the foods that we have at hand."
He points to Cubans' preference for rice, pork and beans, all locally available but many of which require machinery and agricultural inputs to grow at scale.
His business, Bacoretto, dries and mills yucca, rice, banana and coconut into organic flour preferred by gluten-intolerant consumers, who have only recently been able to find food products tailored to their dietary needs in Cuba.
By-products of their processes are used to make coconut oil, coconut-fibre rope, vinegar and fermented products and sweets, Perez told Reuters.
Bacoretto is small and specialised, and its products available primarily in Havana. It produces six to eight kilograms (13.2-17.6 pounds) of flour a week, Perez said, in small batches, in addition to by-products, with a staff of eight people.
Perez said the business, which took advantage of a 2021 decision to lift a ban on private companies in place on the island since shortly after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, has struggled to find the financing it needs in cash-strapped Cuba.
Thousands of small businesses have taken root in Cuba since 2021, but many face persistent problems with financing, infrastructure, supply and workforce in the communist-run country which for decades shunned private enterprise.
"To be profitable," Perez said, "technological capacity needs to be increased and better machinery is needed." ~ Reuters ~