Cuba attaining sustainable agriculture
By Lem Harris, People's Weekly World, 17 January 1998
Driven by necessity, Cuban agriculture has been forced to abandon standard power farming practices and is applying sustainable soil and crop practices. This has aroused interest of progressive agricultural associations in the United States. Last year, Food First and the Institute for Food and Development Policy, using a grant from the C.S. Mott Foundation, put together a delegation of 26 American farmers and agricultural researchers to study the new Cuban farming methods. Their report is summarized in Minnesota's Land Stewardship Letter, April/May 1997.
In 1989, Russia stopped delivering crude oil to Cuban refineries in exchange for Cuban sugar. At the same time Cuba found itself unable to import chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Such imports dropped by 80 percent. The U.S. anti-Cuban embargo has cut off most normal agricultural inputs. This forced Cuba to literally plunge into an agricultural conversion affecting the nation's entire crop.
When gasoline for farm tractors became scarce, Cuban agriculture could turn to 100,000 oxen, "leftovers" by survived Cuban farm mechanization. Since then by castrating many existing bulls and a nationwide breeding campaign, the number of oxen working the Cuban land has risen to 400,000. This has required the production of a whole line of cultivators, seeders and harvester suitable for ox power.
Cuba's pest reduction program does not depend on chemicals any more. More than 230 locally controlled and operated Centers for the reproduction of Entomophages and Entomopathogens (CREE) create nontoxic pest controls. One such CREE is located at a Agricultural High School where students scout the fields to determine infestations, raise the bugs, do the releases and monitor the results.
Another center known as Pasture and Fodder Research Institute, is guided by the principle that diversity leads to stability. Instead of trying to concentrate the maximum number of cows in a factory type of operation, they study the best ratio of livestock to horticulture per hectare (2.47 acres).
This admittedly involves much human labor but Jose Suarez of the institute says: "Yo vivo enamorado con mi trabajo." (I am in love with my work.) The one demonstrative hectare for which he is responsible has an amazing array of fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, living fences and indigenous forage plants. Suarez explains that they are trying to learn what regimen will yield the highest return of human needs.
One can argue whether Cuba's program is progress or retreat to more primitive agriculture. Hector Bouza, director of the Cuban Mechanizing Institute, affirms that most machine cultivations of the soil damage the microorganisms. Microorganisms that live in the shade die in the sun and vice versa. Excess stirring of the soil raises havoc with soil life. While making a good seed bed it also promotes weed growth.
A conclusion drawn by the visiting farmers and researchers is that Cuban agriculture today is demonstrating an agriculture that is friendly with the natural world and is also the best way to meet Cuba's urgent food needs.
The cost to Cuba is excess human labor. But if the nation is fed and Cuba survives, it is labor well spent. No one expects that oxen will remain the permanent source of Cuba's farm energy, but as a temporary measure for survival as long as normal channels are closed due to the criminal embargo, it stands as witness to the fierce determination of a nation to remain free from foreign domination.
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