Over recent years, Cuba's poultry industry has faced many obstacles at an economic as well as a geographic level. This has significantly affected the development of this sector, particularly where poultry meat is concerned. However, Cuba aims to improve its poultry business in the years to come. This, to a large extent, depends on skilled professionals.
By Dr Alberto Ramírez, Cuban Society of Poultry Producers
The Cuban poultry industry became an industrialised sector through the organisation of an integrated system of enterprises called the National Poultry Union (CAN). The aim of this Union, which was created in 1964, was to ensure the availability of a fast and safe source of protein for the people living in the country. During those years, eggs played a major role in Cuban food. Over the past 30 years, the poultry industry has been the animal husbandry activity that has grown the most in the country, which, according to the FAO, is among the first 45 and 25 world egg producers and consumers, respectively.
Keeping up with the global trend, Cuban poultry farmers produce under three fundamental models, namely: specialised or intensive production; mixed production (developed by some economic and business associations), which combines characteristics of industrial and small-scale production, and; family production, carried out by producers who are either independent or, in many cases, members of loan and service cooperatives, or basic units of animal husbandry. Under this model, production can take place in total or partial confinement, or free-range, and feed on local by-products and residues combined with grains.
With more than 26,000 people working directly in the poultry business - 8,039 private producers who are members of the Cuban Society of Poultry Producers, with an average age of 41 and 39% of which are women - Cuba’s poultry industry has one professional and one technician per every 20 and 8 workers, respectively.
Own genetic resources
Cuba has its own genetic resources and the work with pure lines ensures the reliability of the production, since it is such lines that originate the rest of the bird categories that constitute the basis the Cuban programme of Egg Production.
Cuban layers produce about 300 eggs, with a feed conversion of 1.45. The efforts of the selection programme concentrate on improving the genetic potential of such birds, seeking to achieve the balance of the economically important parameters.
The country has a Bank of Lines and Breeds for different breeding purposes. It aims to preserve as many genes, genotypes and breeds as possible, including those breeds that do not have significant economic importance, but that are unquestionably a valuable source of genes because of their characteristics, such as body warmth for incubation, low nutritional requirements, and resistance to stress conditions under which these birds have been bred.
The programmes of development, conservation, selection and improvement of other species, such as geese, guinea fowl, pheasants, turkeys, quails and ducks, constitute other options for the production of eggs, for which demand is on the rise.
The gene bank is a particularly successful achievement of the Cuban poultry sector. It was developed as part of a high-value strategy and is recognised by international organisations, such as the FAO.
Egg and meat production
Cuba’s egg production has been fairly constant over recent years (Table 1). In 2008, however, it decreased against the previous year due to the occurrence of two high-intensity hurricanes that affected more than 65% of the country’s poultry infrastructure. Production of 1,900.5 billion eggs is expected for 2009.
Cuba’s poultry sector discontinued meat production in 2001 because production costs were higher than those abroad due to factors such as the US blockade. However, production resumed later and reached a record in 1989, with 117.8 million mt. Cuba currently imports poultry meat, mostly from the US and Brazil. The average annual imports amount to about 100,000 mt.
Feed ingredients imported
Cuba lacks a stable source of production of grains and other basic ingredients for feed production (Table 2). For many years, therefore, the country has had to import about 90% of the raw materials, on many occasions from markets like China. This, however, means that Cuba incurs high freight and other costs due to, among other reasons, the US blockade on the country. At present, there is availability of the ingredients that a balanced diet requires, and efforts are being made in the search and assessment of new regional by-products that can be used as poultry feed.
One of the most important aspects of the Cuban poultry industry is the implementation of proper biosecurity programmes. These programmes aim at reducing the unavoidable exposure of birds to pathogens and natural threats, whereas other programmes are aimed at controlling major poultry diseases. Such programmes are periodically updated according to the national and international animal health situation. The monitoring system permanently supervises on health-related indicators and the observance of hygiene and sanitary standards.
Thus far, Cuba is free from the most serious poultry diseases thanks to the Cuban Surveillance System, which is coordinated by the Institute of Veterinary Medicine with the support of various institutes, which makes early alert possible in those cases where there is suspicion of a disease outbreak. Another innovative initiative of Cuban poultry farming is to develop best practices to face natural and biological disasters. This is an issue that the government and several official institutes cooperate on very closely.
Effects of blockades
The US has continued economical blockades against Cuba, which has significantly affected the development of the country’s poultry industry. These include:
• Prohibition of access to the US market, which has led to Cuba’s geographic trade relocation.
• Such prohibition delays the purchase and increases prices of the inputs that are needed to ensure the appropriate working of all the components of the poultry chain.
• The conditions of measures against the country’s food trade remain intact.
• The US government, through the OFAC, has continued demanding that the payment of exports to Cuba must be received before authorising the unloading of the merchandise, which delays the beginning of loading and unloading of ships arriving at Cuban ports from the US.
Damage caused by the lack of access to US technology has excluded Cuba from gaining cutting-edge technology developed in the US. This caused the Cuban poultry business to remain paralysed over recent years, preventing the country from both producing meat at lower costs, and the poultry industry from generating over 4,000 direct jobs. It has also caused a lack of access to vaccines for the prevention of poultry disease. The US government ban on direct exports of poultry vaccines to Cuba remains in effect. Such a prohibition was extended to European labs, under the assumption that their vaccines contain at least 10% of antigens produced in the US. The vaccines involved are those against such diseases as Gumboro (Infectious Bursal Disease), NCD, Bronchitis and Avian Reoviruses. In addition, the refusal to grant visas, along with other measures, has restrained the participation of Cuban scientific and business staff in symposiums, fairs and meetings.
International organisations Since 1998, Cuba’s poultry industry is represented through the Cuban Society of Poultry Producers (SOCPA) as an active member of the Federation of Poultry Producers of Central America and the Caribbean (FEDAVICAC). In 2001, the SOCPA was admitted as a member of the Latin American Poultry Breeding Association (ALA). Furthermore, Cuba is in charge of the organisation of a branch of the WSPA. In 2002, Cuba hosted the 17th Poultry Congress of Central America, and the Caribbean and will host the 21st Latin American Congress this coming October.
Joint efforts needed
The earth’s population is expected to grow considerably over the next 25 years. This will significantly increase basic needs, such as food, housing, etc. All this threatens the conservation of biodiversity. So, environmental and ecological issues have become increasingly important in Cuba. Joint efforts are now necessary to save biodiversity, which is our survival guarantee.
Cuba is working on egg production, and poultry meat production will be resumed in the near future, with the conviction that since it is the cheapest and most readily available source of protein, it will continue providing healthy food and a better quality of life in a country whose government committed 50 years ago to ensuring the satisfaction of the people’ food needs. Accordingly, the government has ever since subsidised most of the food consumed. Under this condition, and with much confidence, Cuba expects to achieve their goal.
Support of Cuba’s poultry industry
Institute of Poultry Research (IAA)
This institute does applied research on poultry genetics, nutrition, health, breeding technologies, management, incubation and feed production technology. The institute has a team of highly qualified experts, the appropriate facilities for the development of poultry farming in tropical regions and two experiment stations with more than 30 buildings, labs for the diagnosis and prevention of poultry diseases, the fast and accurate assessment of the nutritional value of animal feed, the selection and improvement of pure lines, the development of more resistant strains and the application of new housing systems, breeding, incubation and feed manufacturing. Furthermore, IIA runs a centre for automated management of genetics and selection programmes, as well as a documentation centre, which publishes the Cuban Poultry Science Magazine. This centre has the largest poultry database in the country. Moreover, the IAA has the National Poultry Genetic Bank (Genofondo) and the Laboratory of Poultry Research and Diagnosis, functioning as National Reference Centre for poultry Diseases.
National Centre for Health in Agriculture (CENSA)
In the field of poultry farming, this institution deals with providing accurate diagnoses of those diseases that make up actual to the national and international poultry industry.
Institute of Animal Science (ICA)
This institute is active in the field of agricultural extension. The ICA relates the results that it gets to their direct impact on production. Its strength lies in the fact that it mainly deals with research on poultry genetics and nutrition.
Biopharmaceutical Laboratories (LABIOFAM)
LABIOFARM is a leader on the national market of biopharmaceuticals, accounting for the production of more than 97% of the veterinary medicines used in the country. The poultry medicines produced by LABIOFAM include vaccines for bacterial and viral diseases, diagnosis methods, sera, antibiotics, drugs against parasites, disinfectants and an array of other products.