Several months ago, President Obama announced plans for the United States to reestablish diplomatic relations and expand trade and travel with Cuba. 

It is a landmark step for both countries. Finally calling an end to more than 50 years of trade restrictions not only will provide America with new market opportunities less than 100 miles offshore, but also will begin to set the stage for changes that will lead to a better life for the Cuban people. 


And the time is right for both our countries. Currently Cubans import 70- 80 percent of their food and this is a potentially ideal market for US agriculture products to increase two way- trades. American farmers and businesses and Cuban citizens alike have indicated a growing eagerness to begin cooperating to forge a new economic relationship. 

Although much work lies ahead, decades of economic isolation have prepared the Cuban people for this new challenge, equipping them with an enterprising, "can do" attitude that has allowed them to make the best of what they have—as evidenced by the 1950s-era automobiles that still cruise the streets of Havana.

While it is common to see such resourcefulness at work throughout Cuba, there is one endeavor that resists improvement by sheer force of will—agricultural production. 

While a renewed relationship between the United States and Cuba opens the door to a wide range of opportunities in many economic sectors, perhaps none are as great as those in agriculture. And a new generation of Cuban farmers stands ready to take advantage of these new possibilities to rebuild their nation's agricultural sector and improve livelihoods of people across the Cuban countryside. 

By any measure, Cuba is an agricultural country. About one-third of the land in Cuba is arable—and 20 percent of the labor force is employed in agriculture—a rate 10 times that of the United States. Based on those statistics alone, it is clear to see that the Cuban agricultural sector is ground zero for initiating the kind of cooperative efforts between our countries that can bring Cuba back into the world economic community. 

But our goal should be far greater than that. Establishing a new era of U.S.-Cuban agricultural cooperation also can drive economic improvements that will produce broader benefits for the people of Cuba in terms of nutrition, income and a more stable and prosperous nation.  

Today, a number of U.S. organizations and firms stand ready to begin forming the new partnerships and relationships that will fuel the creation of the kind of sustainable agricultural solutions that will be critical to long-term growth on the island.  

These organizations have an established record of success in creating and integrating the kinds of connections between governments, farmers and businesses that result in new, vibrant partnerships that can open the flow of the technology and expertise necessary to improve Cuban agricultural production.

As evidenced by their success in other countries and regions of the world, these U.S. entities are experienced in creating a collaborative environment in which farmers, smallholders, cooperatives and other enterprises can obtain the technical assistance, financing, management guidance, equipment and input supplies they need to increase production and income, ramp up operating efficiency and develop new, receptive markets. 

These prospective relationships also would carry significant potential rewards for U.S. farmers, businesses and consumers by providing our nation with a new market for American grain, technology and expertise, as well as a nearby source from which we can feed America's growing appetite for a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables.  

Our experiences serving as secretaries of agriculture have left us with the common conviction that establishing agricultural connections with other countries provides an open door through which the United States can reach out to the people of other nations not only to further economic cooperation, but also to prove our friendship and strengthen it for future generations. 

As the president has indicated, now is the time to fully open this door and allow the United States and Cuba to begin this process so that our governments, our farmers, and U.S. firms and organizations can begin to work together for the common good of both nations.

Block was the secretary of Agriculture 1981-1986 under President Reagan. He currently serves as senior policy adviser at Olsson, Frank, and Weeda. Espy was secretary of the Agriculture 1993-1994 under President Clinton. He is also a former Democratic U.S. representative from the 2nd District of Mississippi. He currently works as a private sector attorney, counselor, and agricultural adviser. Both are board members of CNFA: Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture.