Horace Clemmons grew up in rural north Alabama, the child of family farmers. It may seem incongruous, but this single fact could mean a great deal for Cuban farmers.
“My grandfather farmed 40 acres with two mules; I personally witnessed the evolution of the American family farm going from livestock to a single-row tractor,” says Clemmons, who runs Cleber LLC with his long-time friend and business partner, Saul Berenthal. “That made a massive impact on the 40- to 60-acre farm.”
Berenthal, a Cuban native, and Clemmons have known each other for 40-some years. The duo started their first business together in 1983 --Post Software International -- and sold it in 1995.
“Saul always said ‘One of these days we’ll start a business in Cuba,’” says Clemmons. Sure enough, on Dec. 17, 2014, when the Obama administration said it would begin to build trade relations with Cuba, Clemmons got a call. “Saul immediately said ‘Okay, now’s the time. Let’s go to Cuba.’ I said, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’”
The pair initially thought they’d develop some software the country needed. “That’s what we’d done before – built a software business with offices in seven countries. But we looked at the situation in Cuba more closely. It turns out there aren’t a lot of retail operations or internet technology.”
Not dissuaded, they turned to what both the U.S. and Cuban governments said they want to accomplish with increased trade.
“The Number One issue President Castro is trying to resolve is the fact that Cuba imports somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of its food. The Cubans are now in the process of returning land to individual farmers rather than have state farms. More than 70 percent of the farmland is now in the private sector.”
That’s when the idea for providing Cuban producers with a one-row tractor struck.
“We figured the best way to help the farmers was to make a tractor for them. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Clemmons hopes a facility to build Oggun, Cleber’s first tractor designed with an Open System Manufacturing Model, will soon be operational in Mariel.