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Cuban scientist visits El Batán to strengthen Cuba-CIMMYT relations

Last Thursday, 02 September 2010, CIMMYT welcomed esteemed Cuban microbiologist, Raixa Llauger, to El Batán on an official visit on behalf of the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture. Llauger, senior researcher at the Institute of Research on Tropical Fruit Crops, Havana, arrived at CIMMYT to revive relations between Cuba and CIMMYT through the exchange of maize varieties.

With approximately 1.2 million hectares dedicated to crop cultivation, Cuba’s main food crops are rice, beans, and maize. Cubans grow rice and beans mainly for consumption, where as maize is grown largely for animal feed. However, maize is sometimes used for human consumption in the form of flour and for national dishes such as tamales. The nation’s demand for maize as dry grain feed is around 772,000 tons and is predicted to reach 966,000 tons by 2015. This large demand for maize as feed has forced Cuba to import maize from other countries—though the Cuban government hopes to reduce maize importation through the steady growth of maize cultivation and the introduction of improved varieties.

Cuba practices agro-ecological alternatives such as the use of organic fertilizers, biofertilizers, and bioplaguicides (microorganisms, native to the region, that act as biological controllers of plant disease) in order to promote sustainable agriculture. Because of this interest in biological controls, Cuba is excited to introduce drought resistant and nitrogen use efficient (NUE) maize varieties into their fields.

Along with interests in obtaining new maize varieties, Cuba also hopes to reignite the training of Cuban scientists at CIMMYT. Cuban scientist Marcos Torres, one of the most influential scientists in Cuba to work with maize, trained and worked at CIMMYT, and his expertise is something modern day Cuban scientists would like to emulate. “Today I met many scientists who fondly remember Torres. I think now is the perfect time to foster the Cuba-CIMMYT relationship,” said Lluager.

In order to facilitate the goal of exchanging both germplasm and knowledge, Llauger discussed future plans with Gary Atlin, associate director of CIMMYT’s Global Maize Program, and Félix San Vicente, maize breeder. “It is not that Cuba’s relationship with CIMMYT ever stopped: we’ve had a continuous relationship with the organization since the 1980s,” said Llauger. “It is just that we have realized all of what CIMMYT has to offer and we are at a stage where we are ready, able, and excited to take advantage of it.”