Posted on Wednesday, 08.26.09
In Cuba, agriculture is going back to basics
As Cuba's agricultural crisis becomes more desperate, training centers
for oxen teams are being opened to save on tractor fuel and increase
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuba is going back as it looks forward, expanding its use of ox teams in
agriculture to save on costly fuel for tractors while increasing
production in the desperately needed food sector.
“The current world financial crisis requires a mixture of the modern
and the traditional,'' agricultural expert Juan Varela wrote in the
“Our country has sufficient capacity and experience to come out a
winner and not allow itself to be defeated by problems and justifications.''
Training centers for ox teams are being opened around the central
province of Villa Clara to produce more than 3,000 teams, Granma
Outside experts argue, however, that the root cause of Cuba's
agricultural woes is a centralized state that largely controls what can
be planted and when, provides inputs such as seeds and fertilizers and
sets prices for the harvests.
“They know what the real problems are,'' said José Alvarez, emeritus
professor at the University of Florida and longtime expert on Cuban
agriculture. “But they pretend that they don't have any memory, and
they think that we are stupid.''
STATE OF CRISIS
Cuba's agriculture fell into an acknowledged state of crisis this year,
with millions of acres fallow and many crops damaged by three powerful
hurricanes last year that caused an estimated $10 billion in damages.
Cuba imports at least 60 percent of its food, including several hundred
million dollars worth from the United States.
In an effort to turn around the low productivity and slash imports, Raúl
Castro's government has loaned 1.7 million acres of fallow state lands
to 82,000 Cubans and shifted Acopio, the notoriously inefficient agency
that gathers and distributes farmers' products, from the Agriculture to
the Domestic Commerce Ministry.
But in recent weeks the Cuban media also has been talking up the need to
increase the use of ox teams, which had their first revival in the early
1990s, when the collapse of Soviet subsidies all but imploded oil
imports and created shortages of spare parts for the island's
predominantly Eastern European-made tractors.
“Let's forget about tractors and fuels for this program, even if we had
them,'' Castro told the legislature this month, referring to the parcels
being loaned out to Cubans in the hopes of increasing food production.
Calling it “animal traction,'' the Cuban media has been projecting the
use of ox teams as a cheap and even ecologically correct alternative to
tractors — they do not compact the soil as much as the machines,
according to the reports.
Varela was quoted as saying that the Ministry of Agriculture can count
on 265,120 oxen “ready to work,'' which are “capable of supplementing
and even surpassing the machinery in an infinite number of labors and
types of plantings.''
But he cautioned that the successful use of the ox teams will require
several changes, among them improved salaries for the ox team drivers,
blacksmiths, trainers “and anyone else directly involved in animal
Horseshoes, for example, have been in short supply in Cuba since 1960.
Back in 2007, independent journalist Reinaldo Cosano Alén reported that
ox teams were being used successfully in Las Tunas province in lands
farmed by a highly regarded state agricultural enterprise, the División
Mambisa Mayor General Vicente García González.
The enterprise was working 16,600 acres with 700 ox teams and 35
drivers, Cosano reported, while also manufacturing its own yokes, ropes
It even had the “ingenuity,'' to figure out how to add two oxen to the
usual four-oxen teams to make the work easier on the animals as well as
their human drivers.
Alvarez recalled that Cuba at one point imported Vietnamese water
buffaloes to pull plows and farm carts, and added that the only crop
blooming these days is marabú, a thorny bush that quickly takes over
The only way to efficiently increase agricultural production, he added,
is to let market forces drive the sector. “They know that works, but
they don't want to do that. So they go over the same old things — oxen!''
In Cuba, agriculture is going back to basics – 5-Minute Herald –
MiamiHerald.com (26 August 2009)