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Let Them Eat Soy - If They Want To

By Reese Erlich / January 24, 1996



HAVANA

Frank Daller sees himself as a socially responsible entrepreneur.

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His mission: to promote the production of soy, and an appetite for it, as an inexpensive protein source in Cuba. Mr. Daller, president of Daller & Co. of Ottawa, recently signed a letter of intent with Cuba's agriculture ministry to grow soybeans, sell harvesting and processing equipment, and eventually develop soy products for the Cuban market.

''Soy is environmentally friendly,'' Daller says. ''An acre planted with soy produces 40 times more protein than an acre used to raise cattle.''

He joins an effort that began after the 1989 collapse of the communist East bloc, when Cuba entered an economic crisis dubbed by leader Fidel Castro Ruz the ''special period.'' Part of the program has been an emphasis on soy. But as an import, the bean is costing about $50 million a year in scarce foreign exchange. Hence the current scheme.

Daller's task goes beyond achieving adequate crop yields. Cubans identify soy products with the hardships of the special period. ''Most people think the meat [extended] with soy tastes awful,'' says housewife Hilda Cercera.

''Once times get better, I don't think most people will eat it,'' she says.

Daller, who hopes to introduce soy-based ice cream, drinks, and cooking oil, says the challenge is ''something a socially responsible entrepreneur can really help accomplish.''