WHEN CHRISTOPHER Columbus arrived in Cuba, more than nine million hectares (greater than 90 ) percent of its territory were covered with trees. Some 467 years later, upon the triumph of the Revolution, there were only 1.5 million hectares of dense forestland left - about 14 percent of the island's surface. Seven million trees had been felled and not one tree planted.
Until 1812, the year in which the first forest census was taken, Cuban forests had not suffered greatly from the pillaging of the colonists. However, the following period, until 1959, was truly devastating. Data from the beginning of the century indicates that the total number of forested hectares in Cuba was 5.4 million (54 percent) - and by 1959, another 40 percent had been lost.
From 1959 on, state enterprises began to return to the earth what had been taken away, but what they did was not enough, so in 1987, the Manati Plan was put into effect, named for the municipality of the same name in eastern Cuba, where the program started.
The innovative strategy foresees the participation of al the organizations of the country and especially the population. Its practical application over the last eight years resulted in the planting of a total of three billion trees on 696 900 hectares.
This figure could appear to be a great success at first glance, but half of the seedlings didn't survive for reasons such as poor quality of the selected seeds, delays and insufficient techniques in the nurseries and plantations. lack of care, inadequate soil and species selection, damage caused by animals and improper felling.
As will other things affected by the special period, the forests have been depleted by the inhabitants of mountainous regions who, faced with a lack of cooking fuel, have found the alternative of firewood.
In the opinion of the Turquino Plan Commission, the problems with reforestation were continuity and the systematic execution of each one of the activities by stages. This led to the loss of 50 percent of the trees which had been planted, in a task in which practically the whole Cuban population had been involved in some way.
With the collapse of the socialist bloc, Cuba stopped importing more than 30,000 cubic meters of wood a year. This demand has been partially met by the trees planted 20 or 30 years ago, but this supply is still insufficient to meet real needs.
According to the Commission's report, it is more important than ever to revitalize the national reforestation program and move into a new stage in Cuban forest development. It is indispensable to prioritize and adapt the program in such a way as to respond to the accelerated economic development this activity requires, including the planting of fruit trees.
The document adds that it should be determined exactly who is responsible for tending the plantations and that there must be analysis of land use and tenancy on the municipal, provincial and national levels with the goal, among others, of increasing the forestland and meeting the needs of each Cuban territory.
The views of the population must be taken into account when the current reforestation pans are made, in order to achieve greater objectivity and quality. Also, it is necessary to prioritize the fundamental objectives of the planting by properly selecting planting areas and the species used.
To realize these objectives, it is important to immediately introduce advanced techniques in seedling production, nurseries and planting that guarantee a rise in quality and a reduction of costs.
Each tree that is planted is like a drop of blood for our ecosystem. Jose Marti rightly noted, "A region without trees is poor. A city without trees is sickly, land without trees is parched and bears wretched fruit. And when good trees are to be had, we must not be crazed heirs of their great timber, because those who did not amass that wooded treasure do not know when it will run out, and they cast it into the river. All trees which are felled must be replaced, so the heritage may remain forever intact...."