May 2017
Position Papers

Cuba’s Coffee Sector and Its Export Potential to the United States

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Export of Cuban coffee to the United States provides an opportunity to improve the lives of Cuban coffee farmers. Given the existing interest in and novelty appeal of Cuban coffee, there is potential for a substantial market in the U.S., and the quality of Cuban coffee is sufficiently high to command a price premium. However, coffee production in Cuba is relatively small, and government control of the export supply chain is so strong that it would be challenging to ensure that most coffee profits reach Cuban farmers, rather than the Cuban government alone. 

To combat these challenges, we have examined models used by several successful coffee-exporting countries, highlighting best practices that can be applied to the Cuban market. Based on this research, there are several relevant takeaways for Cuba:

• Lessons from Jamaica: Utilize a central clearinghouse to maintain quality control standards, maximizing the yield of export-quality coffee, guaranteeing a premium product, and building a strong global brand around Cuban coffee.

• Lessons from Nicaragua: Encourage cooperative structures that promote best practices to improve coffee yields and quality, including shared educational resources and other community-wide tools and equipment.

• Lessons from Costa Rica: Consider fair trade certification to guarantee improvement of the lives of Cuban coffee farmers.]

• Lessons from Ethiopia: Pursue trademark protection and create national coffee brands to ensure that the country as a whole, rather than international marketers or distributors, is able to capture the premium associated with selling Cuban coffee in the U.S. 

Additionally, based on in-country observations, we believe the Cuban coffee industry could more effectively to generate revenue by:

• Creating additional in-country sales channels of coffee beans, given high levels of interest observed from tourists in Havana.

• Considering building a tour or museum experience for visitors to learn about Cuban coffee production and sample and purchase Cuban varieties.

• Pursuing partnerships with third-parties (e.g., Technoserve) to ensure fair and just interactions between the Cuban government, Cuban coffee farmers, and U.S. coffee purchasers.

• Implementation of the above initiatives would provide vast improvements to the Cuban coffee market, including the lives of local farmers.

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