Cuba’s Fu­ture

Trillions - - Table Of Contents - By Ivet González (IPS News)

Cuba’s or­ganic agri­cul­ture may face se­ri­ous chal­lenges

The United States has in­di­cated a clear in­ter­est in buy­ing or­ganic pro­duce from Cuba as soon as that is made pos­si­ble by the on­go­ing nor­mal­i­sa­tion of ties be­tween the two coun­tries. But farm­ers and others in­volved in the agroe­co­log­i­cal sec­tor warn that when the day ar­rives, they might not be ready.

“The im­pact would be con­di­tioned by sev­eral fac­tors, in­clud­ing the ca­pac­ity of farm­ers to de­sign, im­ple­ment and eval­u­ate agroe­co­log­i­cal busi­ness mod­els that can meet the de­mands and re­quire­ments of the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional mar­kets,” Hum­berto Ríos, one of the founders of the green move­ment in Cuban agri­cul­ture, told IPS.

The pos­si­ble op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered by the big U.S. mar­ket, where re­quire­ments are strict, will test the re­sponse ca­pac­ity of the coun­try’s or­ganic farm­ers.

“The farm­ers know how to grow things with­out agro­chem­i­cals. But that’s not enough for de­vel­op­ing agroe­col­ogy,” said Ríos, a re­searcher who is now work­ing in Spain at the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Devel­op­ment- Ori­ented Re­search in Agri­cul­ture, told IPS by email.

Cuba needs “a clear pol­icy to boost the eco­nomic growth of the pri­vate sec­tor and co­op­er­a­tives in­ter­ested in of­fer­ing agroe­co­log­i­cal prod­ucts and ser­vices,” said Ríos, who won the Gold­man En­vi­ron­ment Prize, known as the Green No­bel, in 2010.

Ríos also won a prize for his work in the Pro­gramme for Lo­cal Agrar­ian In­no­va­tion (PIAL), which with the help of in­ter­na­tional devel­op­ment aid has taught par­tic­i­pa­tive seed im­prove­ment and other eco­log­i­cal agri­cul­tural tech­niques to 50,000 peo­ple in 45 of Cuba’s 168 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties since 2000.

Ríos also said Cuba’s new eco­nomic open­ness could have either a pos­i­tive or a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact. Ex­perts de­scribe Cuba’s agroe­col­ogy as a “child of ne­ces­sity” be­cause it was born af­ter this coun­try lost the agri­cul­tural in­puts it was guar­an­teed up to the col­lapse of the Soviet Union and east Euro­pean so­cial­ist bloc at the start of the 1990s.

If mea­sures are not taken and pend­ing is­sues are not solved, “the in­va­sion by con­ven­tional agri­cul­ture and

its prod­ucts is likely to erase more than 25 years of agroe­col­ogy,” Ríos said.

There have been sev­eral U.s.-driven ini­tia­tives to cre­ate open ties in agri­cul­ture, since the thaw be­tween the two coun­tries be­gan in De­cem­ber 2014. And the cli­mate is even more pos­i­tive since U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s his­toric Mar. 21-22 visit to Ha­vana.

La Palma: an ex­am­ple

In the moun­tain­ous mu­nic­i­pal­ity of La Palma, where Ríos be­gan to work as a young man with a hand­ful of small farm­ers in this lo­cal­ity in the ex­treme western prov­ince of Pi­nar del Río, green-friendly ac­tivists al­ready feel the loom­ing threats.

“The surge in im­proved seeds is a weak­ness,” said Elsa Dá­va­los, who be­longs to the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Small Farm­ers of La Palma and co­or­di­nates the lo­cal agroe­co­log­i­cal move­ment, where 500 of a to­tal of 1,127 farms grow their pro­duce with­out us­ing chem­i­cal prod­ucts.

Dá­va­los said the im­proved seeds she was re­fer­ring to are crops given high pri­or­ity, such as maize, beans or taro, whose seeds are dis­trib­uted along with a pack­age of agro­chem­i­cals. “Many farm­ers go this route to get big har­vests with­out hav­ing to work so much,” she la­mented in her con­ver­sa­tion with IPS in La Palma.

Im­proved seeds be­came more widely used af­ter the gov­ern­ment of Raúl Cas­tro launched eco­nomic re- forms in 2008, with a fo­cus on in­creas­ing agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion to re­duce food im­ports, which cost this is­land na­tion two bil­lion dol­lars a year.

Up to now, the mea­sures ap­plied, such as the dis­tri­bu­tion of idle state land to farm­ers in usufruct, have brought mod­est growth in agri­cul­ture – 3.1 per­cent in 2015 – con­sid­ered in­suf­fi­cient to meet do­mes­tic de­mand and to bring down the high, steadily ris­ing prices of food.

Farm­ers com­plain about a lack of in­puts like fer­tiliser, ma­chin­ery and ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems, a short­age of labour power, lim­ited ac­cess to com­ple­men­tary ser­vices, red tape, and weak in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, to pre­serve and sell sur­plus crops, for ex­am­ple.

Eco­log­i­cal farms strug­gle against these dif­fi­cul­ties com­mon to the en­tire agri­cul­tural in­dus­try, and others par­tic­u­lar to green-friendly farm­ing.

“It is very hard for small (or­ganic) farm­ers to at­tend to all of their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and to also find time to pro­duce the nec­es­sary eco­log­i­cal in­puts,” Yoan Ro­dríguez, PIAL co­or­di­na­tor in La Palma, told IPS.

To boost yields, “some peo­ple must spe­cialise in ob­tain­ing only in­puts such as ef­fi­cient micro­organ­isms, com­post and earth­worm hu­mus,” said the re­searcher, who is push­ing for an im­prove­ment in agroe­co­log­i­cal ser­vices in the area, to sup­port and at­tract farm­ers.

“Cuba has started to open up to the world, and even more so as a re­sult of the ne­go­ti­a­tions with the United States. The chem­i­cal in­puts that sat­u­rate the global agri­cul­tural mar­ket will also ar­rive. It’s go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult to main­tain what we have achieved through our ef­forts over so many years,” he said.

Other fac­tors that dis­cour­age the move­ment in the coun­try is the vir­tual ab­sence of cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of agroe­co­log­i­cal prod­ucts, and a lack of dif­fer­en­ti­ated and com­pet­i­tive prices for or­ganic prod­ucts in state en­ter­prises, to which co­op­er­a­tives and in­de­pen­dent farm­ers are re­quired to sell a large part of their pro­duc­tion.

But PIAL and other ini­tia­tives are com­ing up with new strate­gies to take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties open­ing up with the coun­try’s eco­nomic re­forms and rein­ser­tion into the in­ter­na­tional mar­kets.

The Marta farm, lo­cated in a priv­i­leged po­si­tion be­tween the cap­i­tal and the spe­cial eco­nomic devel­op­ment zone of Mariel, in the western prov­ince of Artemisa, pro­duces fresh veg­eta­bles with­out us­ing chem­i­cals, and its clients in­clude 25 up­scale restau­rants in Ha­vana.

“We have a good con­nec­tion with the mar­kets and we sell enough,” said Fer­nando Funes-mon­zote, an­other founder of the agroe­co­log­i­cal move­ment in the coun­try, who in 2011 launched this farm, where 16 peo­ple cur­rently work.

“The idea was to show that an eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able, so­cially just and eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble fam­ily farm­ing pro­ject was pos­si­ble here,” he told IPS.

Push for open­ness from in­ter­ests in the U.S.

Mean­while, in­ter­est in Cuba’s eco­log­i­cal agri­cul­ture has been re­it­er­ated dur­ing vis­its to this Caribbean is­land na­tion by U.S. busi­nessper­sons and agri­cul­ture of­fi­cials, who are among the most ac­tive pro­po­nents of a to­tal nor­mal­i­sa­tion of re­la­tions be­tween these two coun­tries sep­a­rated by just 90 miles of ocean.

The fore­most ex­am­ple is the 30 com­pa­nies form­ing part of the U.S. Agri­cul­ture Coali­tion for Cuba (USACC), which emerged in Jan­uary 2015 to help push for an end to the U.S. em­bargo against Cuba in place since 1962.

The U.S. Agri­cul­ture De­part­ment even asked Congress for fi­nanc­ing for five of­fi­cials to work full-time in Cuba, to pave the way for trade and in­vest­ment to take off as soon as the cur­rent re­stric­tions are lifted.

It is also sig­nif­i­cant that the first U.S. fac­tory to set up shop in Cuba in over half a cen­tury, af­ter get­ting the green light from the U.S. gov­ern­ment in Fe­bru­ary, will be a plant for as­sem­bling 1,000 trac­tors a year, to be used by in­de­pen­dent farm­ers. The plant will op­er­ate in the Mariel spe­cial eco­nomic devel­op­ment zone.

A loop­hole to the em­bargo dat­ing back to the year 2000 per­mits di­rect sales of food and medicine to Cuba by U.S. pro­duc­ers, but strictly on a cash ba­sis. How­ever, in the past few years these sales have dropped be­cause Cuba found credit fa­cil­i­ties in other mar­kets.

In 2015 food pur­chases by the United States amounted to just 120 mil­lion dol­lars, down from 291 mil­lion dol­lars in 2014, ac­cord­ing to the U.s.-cuba Trade and Eco­nomic Coun­cil.

With re­port­ing by Pa­tri­cia Grogg in Ha­vana. Edited by Estrella Gu­tiér­rez/trans­lated by Stephanie Wildes © 2016 IPS News For more ar­ti­cles like this visit www.ip­snews.net

A worker on the Marta farm, which was founded by one of the first pro­po­nents of agroe­col­ogy in Cuba, har­vests or­ganic let­tuce in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Caim­ito, in the western Cuban prov­ince of Artemisa. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/ips

A woman picks or­ganic green beans on the La Sazón organo­ponic farm in the Casino De­portivo neigh­bour­hood of Ha­vana, which forms part of the coun­try’s ur­ban agri­cul­ture sys­tem. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/ips

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