Cuba crops ravaged by Sandy, UN warns
by Agence France-Presse
HAVANA, Cuba – Hurricane Sandy, which killed 11 people and damaged more than 188,000 homes when it tore across eastern Cuba, also ravaged almost 100,000 hectares (245,000 acres) of crops, a UN report warned Wednesday, October 31.
Sandy devastated Cuba's second-largest city, Santiago de Cuba, as well as nearby rural areas critical to farming in the cash-strapped Communist country of 11.2 million, which pays to import most of its food.
"The toll on the farm sector will have major repercussions around the country due to the importance of areas where key crops for the whole island have been affected," said a UN technical team report, to which AFP had access.
"About 96,980 hectares of a variety of crops were affected" by Sandy, the report added. "Sugar cane was the single hardest hit followed by plantain and bananas, vegetables and other basic crops" such as beans, it said.
Though Cuban officials rarely speak publicly about food security issues, Vice President Jose Ramon Machado, on a visit to the ravaged area, said "one of the biggest problems is going to be guaranteeing food for the people in coming months," a report in the Communist Party newspaper Granma said Wednesday.
President Raul Castro, who took over from his brother Fidel during the revolutionary icon's 2006 health crisis, has said the farm sector is key to Cuba getting out of the economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union more than two decades ago.
Havana has handed out fallow state land to thousands of would-be new farmers but has not made much progress in increasing domestic food production.
The Caribbean country, roughly the size of Portugal or the US state of Virginia, has vast fertile acreage but does not produce enough to feed itself and still spends billions importing food. – Agence France-Presse