Local Farmers Producing Food Solutions
By Patricia Grogg
SAN JOSÉ DE LAS LAJAS, Cuba, Jun 5 (IPS) – Cuba's food production is
insufficient to meet the country's needs, but the solution may lie in
successful local experiences that show that farming is possible without
the costly inputs used by the agriculture industry up to the late 1980s.
Agriculture on this Caribbean island is still recovering from three
decades of the "green revolution" characterised by a centralist policy
that kept most of the 6.6 million hectares of arable land in state hands.
However, the authorities appear convinced of the need to adopt certain
changes in the face of rising food prices on the world market, which
will force the country to spend around two billion dollars this year on
"I think the country's leadership is closer than ever to letting us
decentralise agriculture," Fernando Funes, coordinator of the Cuban
Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF) Agroecology
Project, told IPS.
"The fact that power is being given to the municipalities to work at
local level is a great step forward," Funes said, about the creation in
April of Agriculture Ministry delegations at municipal level which will
be in charge of land tenure and boosting production.
Over one-third (36 percent) of Cuba's agricultural land still belongs to
the state, but only 29 percent of that is cultivated, whereas nearly
twice that proportion of non-state land is productive, according to the
National Statistics Office (ONE).
Private campesinos (small farmers) and Credit and Services Cooperatives
(CCS) made up of independent producers make the fullest use of their
land, cultivating over 65 percent of it.
"Historically, everything was planned at the macro level and I think
that led to failure," Ania Yong, a researcher at the National Institute
of Agricultural Science (INCA), told IPS. She thinks solutions to the
food problem will come from the lowest level. "Personalised local work
has given us the best results," she said.
Yong is part of a team for the Programme for Local Agrarian Innovation
(PIAL), an initiative benefiting more than 8,000 producers all over the
María Valido, one of the beneficiaries, told how contour farming and
growing king grass (cattle fodder) with organic fertiliser on her land
got her through the drought this year.
Several families in the valley of San Andrés, west of Havana, were able
to save their livestock thanks to the grass she grew.
Meanwhile, Plácida Aldaz proudly showed off the 225 varieties of beans
harvested on her land, some of them yielding up to 100 pounds per pound
of seed, without the use of chemicals.
Aldaz, a campesina from La Palma, near San Andrés, and her brother farm
dozens of other crops and raise palm trees and livestock.
Valido and Aldaz, both members of PIAL, participated in the Local
Agricultural Innovation Festival, sponsored by INCA and held May 27 and
28 in the village of San José de Las Lajas, south of the Cuban capital.
"Farming culture has been lost in Cuba," Manuel Ponce, the coordinator
of the Local Centre for Agricultural Innovation (CLIA) in Havana
province, told IPS. "Many farmers now live in towns and cities, and
their children don't want anything to do with the land."
Only 24 percent of the Cuban population lives in the countryside.
The rural exodus was, in fact, one of the consequences of the so-called
"green revolution", an intensive farming system that left a legacy of
one million hectares of land affected by salinisation, as well as
eroded, compacted and infertile soils, and an "invasion" of weeds like
marabu or aroma (Dichrostachys species) in the fields, according to Funes.
Furthermore, 43 percent of agricultural land suffers from medium to
severe erosion, while over 1.2 million hectares, about one-fifth of the
total, are lying fallow, according to ONE statistics from December 2007.
Funes is in favour of extending a system combining agriculture,
livestock and forestry, which has had excellent results on several farms
on the island. The method incorporates agroecology, is largely
independent of inputs like chemical fertilisers and insecticides, boost
self-sufficiency and respects the environment.
In his view, the old model of "vertical agriculture" which centralised
decision-making or restricted it to state companies that would "tell
people what they had to do" was responsible for much harm to the sector,
because it did not take into account local farmers' specific talents or
"But applying agroecology methods is not enough. Farmers need to recover
their self-esteem and earn enough profits to make a decent living," said
Funes. "There are a lot of people who want to stay in the countryside,
because of tradition and their own awareness.
"I think campesinos should have greater participation in
decision-making, and more use should be made of their wealth of
knowledge," Funes said.
Yong, for her part, said that some farmers involved in PIAL had begun to
hold positions in the structures that design local agricultural
policies. Expanded production and increased family incomes are the
arguments that have gradually convinced the authorities of the
usefulness of the programme, she said.
"We have to promote agricultural innovation, distribute more land and
give campesinos more support," said Ponce, who is also an INCA
researcher. "I think that if these ideas catch on, all the problems can
be solved." (END/2008)