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Technology transfer and capacity building helps Cuba's packaging sector

13 July 2023 Charles Arthur

equipment CNEE

Versión en español

Packaging and food-processing technologies can both increase food supplies and ensure food security and food safety. They are also the foundation for the development of a thriving trade in food exports.

In Cuba, the packaging industry is probably the weakest point in the country’s food-processing sector, not only hampering internal food security but also restricting export potential. The Investment and Technology Promotion Office (ITPO) Italy of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has been working to strengthen and modernize this vital part of the country’s agro-industry.

A Packages and Packaging Centre (Centro de Envases y Embalajes, CNEE) was set up in 1976, and in 1994 was incorporated into the Institute of Food Industry Research (Instituto de Investigaciones de la Industria Alimentaria, IIIA), belonging to the Ministry of Food Industry (Ministerio de la Industria Alimentaria, MINAL). The CNEE was tasked with providing certification of all the materials and packing containers that are produced and imported, as well as providing laboratory services and carrying out research and development activities. However, over time, the CNEE’s equipment became obsolete and proved unable to provide reliable results.

In 2021, as part of project implemented by UNIDO ITPO Italy together with Cuba’s Ministry of Industries (MINDUS) and with the financial support of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, international experts carried out an assessment of the CNEE’s capacity to test different packaging materials and technologies for compliance with national and international standards.

As a result of the assessment, the project procured and provided the CNEE with specialized equipment for testing packaging materials and plastic, paper and carton packages. An online workshop instructed staff on using the equipment and all the items were successfully tested. CNEE staff also took part in a 10-day training course about responsible packaging and standardization and quality control processes in the packaging sector.

CNEE team
WPO membership
CNEE microscope

In November 2021, at a commissioning ceremony, CNEE Director Miriela Valle Cepero, thanked UNIDO ITPO Italy not only for the donation of basic equipment to test packaging materials and packages, but also for the capacity-building services provided, including personnel training, workshops, the recruitment of specialists and the development of institutional collaborations in the field.

She said, “These capacity-building activities will benefit all business stakeholders, including new micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, independent workers and local cooperatives, boosting strategic sectors such as agri-food, tourism and biopharma. The validation processes performed thanks to the equipment we have received will also contribute to stepping up our country’s exports.”

The Director of the AICS in Cuba, Antonio Festa, also congratulated UNIDO ITPO Italy on the improvement in the CNEE’s capacities to test different packaging materials and technologies for compliance with national and international standards, which, he said, “will serve as guiding force towards increased exports for inclusive economic growth within the country”.

In May 2022, thanks to the support provided by UNIDO ITPO Italy, the CNEE officially joined the World Packaging Organisation (WPO), an international federation of national packaging institutes and associations, regional packaging federations and other interested parties, including industry and trade associations.

MINDUS Deputy Minister, Yamilín González Milián, commented, “Becoming a WPO member is a great opportunity for the CNEE to access relevant information, training, specialized technical advice and assimilate new technological and productive know-how to optimize management and local industrial development in Cuba.”

In mid-2023, CNEE Director Valle Cepero gave an upbeat assessment of the impact of the now concluded UNIDO project, saying the Centre can now perform 52 different laboratory tests, and that the first months of 2023 had brought a record income of around 1.9m Cuban pesos (approximately US$80,000) for providing laboratory tests for private companies. 

She said that, as a result of joining the WPO, collaboration with similar entities in Latin America had been established, including exchanges and cooperation agreements with the Argentine Packaging Institute (Instituto Argentino del Envase) and Brazil’s Packaging Technology Centre (Centro de Tecnologia de Embalagem).

Valle said the CNEE was helping with the implementation of a new packaging policy approved by the Cuban Government to promote innovation and the use of efficient technologies in the country. She said, “The policy refers to the transformation and modernization of containers and packaging, towards the elimination of single-use containers and the development of bio-degradable, compostable, recyclable containers, which will reduce pollution, and thus are, in turn, in line with new legislation on environmental protection.”

ITPO Italy’s Dino Fortunato explained, “For UNIDO, the transfer of technology and knowledge from industrialized to developing countries is key to development. Technology transfer involves the purchase and acquisition of equipment and the know-how to use, maintain and repair it.  As well as the know-how to use new technology, it is important that knowledge about processes, policies, methods and data is also shared.”

  • UNIDO’s Investment and Technology Promotion Network consists of ten offices (ITPOs) around the world. The objective of the ITP Network is to contribute to the industrial development of developing countries and countries with economies in transition by identifying and mobilizing the technical, financial, managerial and other resources required for the implementation of specific industrial investment and technology promotion projects with local partners.

Further reading: 

Cuba: workshops and training on the packaging sector

Long-term support for biotech yields vaccine promise in Cuba