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They built a tractor for Cuban farmers, but others will use it instead

Oggun tractor for Cuban farmers to be built in Ukraine, Peru

Two ex-IBMers from the Triangle built the Oggun tractor for Cuban farmers, but can't sell it in Cuba. So their company, Cleber, is looking elsewhere and has licensed the design to companies that will build and sell it in Ukraine and Peru.
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Two ex-IBMers from the Triangle built the Oggun tractor for Cuban farmers, but can't sell it in Cuba. So their company, Cleber, is looking elsewhere and has licensed the design to companies that will build and sell it in Ukraine and Peru.

A small tractor that two ex-IBMers from the Triangle had hoped to sell to Cuban farmers will instead be first built and sold in two other countries: Ukraine and Peru.

Cleber LLC, a company formed by Saul Berenthal of Raleigh and Horace Clemmons of Alabama, recently signed an agreement with a Ukrainian company to begin making the tractor to sell to farmers there. Cleber has a similar arrangement with another company in Peru.

Berenthal and Clemmons called the tractor Oggun, after the spirit of metal work in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, and introduced it at a trade show in Havana in 2015. The small, rear-engine tractor is an updated version of the Allis-Chalmers Model G that was introduced in the U.S. in 1948 and discontinued seven years later.

The tractor is simple to make and repair, largely with off-the-shelf parts that farmers can more easily get their hands on, Berenthal and Clemmons say. They say they priced it within reach of Cuba's 70,000 nongovernment farming co-ops and small independent farmers. In early 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department granted the company a license to do business in Cuba, under exceptions to the U.S. trade embargo crafted by the Obama administration.

But the Cuban government upset the men's plans when it turned down their bid to assemble the tractors in an international business park there. Berenthal, who fled Cuba as a teenager after the revolution in 1959 and has lived in the Triangle since the 1970s, says he now thinks Cleber will be able to make and sell its tractors in Cuba only if the U.S. lifts the trade embargo it put in place more than 50 years ago.

In the meantime, Cleber has begun to sell tractors in the U.S. through its website, thinkoggun.com, where a basic Oggun assembled in Alabama with a Honda gas engine lists for $12,500. A long list of accessories are extra. The company has sold 80 in the U.S., including seven to land-grant university research farms and one to the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a Rockefeller-funded nonprofit, Clemmons said.

"They train new farmers using our tractor," he wrote in an email. "You might say they are our salespersons."

Cleber has also been seeking to license its tractors to companies who would build and sell it in other countries. In addition to Ukraine and Peru, it has sent prototypes to Rwanda, Ethiopia, Senegal and Angola, Clemmons said.

"Our goal is to provide manufacturing of the tractor on a global basis, anywhere there are small farmers that cannot currently afford a tractor," Clemmons wrote.

There are about 45,000 small private farms in Ukraine that will be the target market for the tractor there. The company that has licensed the Oggun, A3TEH-UKRAINA, makes large farm equipment but doesn't offer anything for small farmers, Clemmons said. The company will pay Cleber a $250 licensing fee for each tractor it makes.

It is unlikely that the Cuban-inspired name Oggun will survive in Ukraine or other countries where the Cleber tractor will be made and sold. Clemmons said the licensing contracts are designed to provide freedom and flexibility to the manufacturers, and that includes picking a name that makes sense to local farmers.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling
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