Cuban agriculture beats the embargo
By Lem Harris, People's Weekly World, 25 April 1998
A scientific publication from London, International Agricultural Development, which reports on agriculture in developing countries, carries this remarkable story:
With the cessation of support from socialist countries, Cuba was faced with the problem of "doubling its food production with half of the agricultural inputs. In some ways Cuba was prepared for this change because the island had a well-developed research infrastructure.
"For many years, Cuba had been using biological agents for the control of pests of sugarcane and other crops. Based on small farmer cooperatives, over 250 mini-laboratories produce organic pest controlling agents for distribution to neighboring farms."
An intercropping combination that has become popular is growing field corn and sweet potatoes together. By planting sweet potatoes between the rows of corn, it was found that corn repels the sweet potato weevil, a major pest of that tuber, while sweet potato repels the army-worm, the main pest of corn. These two crops are now major staples.
Due to the shortage of imported petroleum, most farm tractors have been idled. As previously reported in the People's Weekly World, Cuban draft power has been forced to depend largely on oxen. The British publication comments that though much slower than tractors, oxen have an advantage important to Cuban conditions. "During the long rainy season, oxen are able to work the wet field, whereas tractors are immobilized. So in some parts of the island farmers grow three crops in a year, compared with just two crops when using tractors.
"Another problem was due to a history of crossing native dairy cattle with Holsteins, which produce maximum quantities of milk. But Holsteins depend upon balanced feeds formerly imported from Eastern Europe. Without these special feed supplements Holsteins fared badly. Farmers then rediscovered their indigenous breed, the Cuban Criollo, which small-scale farmers still kept. These are hardy animals and are productive on natural pastures. There is now a national program to improve this breed both for milk and meat."
Soil fertility is maintained with compost made on a large scale by the wastes generated by institutions and municipalities. These are enhanced by green manure (crops like rye and alfalfa which are plowed under while partly grown to add nitrogen to the soil - LH).
There is a nationwide action to grow vegetables and other nutritious crops in urban areas. All cities and towns have a considerable area growing vegetables, all produced organically. In Havana there are over 17,000 acres of plots, which range from small individual gardens, to larger pieces of land belonging to institutions.
The country now produces more of its staple food, vegetables and fruit, than it did when using tractors, imported fertilizers and pesticides.
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