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Cuban entrepreneurs use 'aquaponics' for efficient food production

Cuban entrepreneurs use 'aquaponics' for efficient food production

Business

Cuba is facing its worst economic downturn in decades, leading to shortages in food

HAVANA (Reuters) - In Cuba, beset by economic crisis and shortages, even the most fundamental of endeavors like fishing or farming can get complicated quickly.

That's why two young Cuban entrepreneurs decided to turn to aquaponics to combine the two in a bid to get more bang for their buck and at the same time bolster the island's dwindling food supply, they told Reuters.

Aquaponics is an aquaculture system in which wastewater from farming fish is fed to hydroponically grown plants like lettuce that purify the water.

It brings together aquaculture and agriculture in a way that is both efficient and environmentally friendly - a perfect fit for Cuba, said Joel Lopez, co-owner of JoJo Acuaponics.

"From fish to the production of food plants, everything is natural," Lopez said on a tour of the facility outside Havana, home to arrays of fish tanks and greenhouses.

At month's end, the harvest includes both a protein via the fish, and a vegetable green. No fertilizers or pesticides - often environmentally damaging and prohibitively expensive on the Caribbean island - are used.

Cuba is facing its worst economic downturn in decades, leading to shortages in food, medicine and fuel that has prompted the communist-run government to seek help from entrepreneurs in finding creative solutions.

"There's a logic to it for young people, becoming entrepreneurs, to want to move forward, to be economically prosperous," said Jose Antonio Martinez, a former attorney who co-owns JoJo Aquaponics.

But entrepreneurs face a challenging environment in Cuba. A Cold War-era embargo imposed by the United States complicates financial transactions, and a bureaucracy-laden state-run economy has only recently allowed private enterprise to take root.

"Aquaponics systems ... use a technology that is expensive. In the Cuban context, it is very difficult for us to be able to access financing," Martinez said, adding that he had received some funding via his local municipality, though it was still insufficient.

Despite the challenges, many Cubans increasingly see operating private businesses as a way to get ahead in a stagnating state-run economy where the average annual salary is less than $20 a month.