The Debate on Cuba’s Farm Crisis: Pessimists vs. Optimists

Erasmo Calzadilla

Illusions perdues
Ilustration by Yasser Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban agriculture is going through one of its recurrent crisis. What is the cause this time around?

One sector sees speculation and a lack of regulations as the root of the problem, while others claim just the opposite: regulations and State intervention is what Cuba has too much of.

What should be regulated and what should we liberalized in Cuba’s economy and agricultural sector today? I’m not entirely sure. The only thing I know is that all extremes have already been tried somewhere and that they are bad.

That said, I am fascinated by how our deep-thinking analysts have assumed it’s possible – and would be splendid – to squeeze more out of the countryside in order to accelerate agricultural production. You can find people as different as Machado Ventura (No. 2 in the Communist Party), from the high echelons of the Party bureaucracy, and reform-minded economists Juan Triana and Armando Nova, espousing this view. There is of course no shortage of passionate defenders of full capitalist liberalization.

I ended a previous post with two questions: “is this really our best option or is there a better one?” No one who commented on my post paid any attention to these queries.

I am of the opinion that it is not the only option available and it is quite possibly not the best. I explain why below.

Climate Change

Cienfuegos during a rainy season.
Cienfuegos during a rainy season.

I have a relative who’s a farmer. Not long ago, he told us how delighted he was with the top-notch field of beans he had managed to sow thanks to the unusual heat and rains this time of the year. The day before yesterday, we found out the unusual downpours of recent days had destroyed his crop and enthusiasm.

Agro-meteorologists and the FAO have been saying it for years: agricultural productivity, stability and revenues will fall. These are not predictions for a hundred years from now, they describe a process that’s already underway.

Last year was one of the hottest on record. Cuba’s average temperature has risen gradually. Currently, it is 0.9 degrees Celsius above the historical mean (and low temperatures have risen much more). This may not seem like a lot, but it’s actually a huge increase.

The sea level has risen at an average of 1.4 millimeters every year, contributing to the much-feared salinization processes, which already affect 10% of the country’s land. Draughts have become chronic towards the country’s east. Eleven out of Cuba’s 14 provinces show signs of desertification. It does rain, but so intensely and tempestuously that ends up ruining crops. The sugarcane harvest is behind schedule because of the rains that unexpectedly fell during the dry season.

Taken from the blog of Gail Tverberg
Taken from the blog of Gail Tverberg

Energy

The other issue absent from the debate surrounding the agricultural crisis is that of energy. Capitalism – and then the revolution – sought to establish “modern” agriculture in Cuba, which requires as much oil as it does water. Black gold consumption, however, has been declining in Cuba since the end of the last decade, and not precisely because we are becoming efficient. Since 2013, the government has not published any statistics on this, a sign that things are getting even worse. Most countries in the region (including ours) have already surpassed their extraction peak and will be plunged into a serious economic, political and social crisis at some point in time.

Soils

Tourism ads sell Cuba as a tropical island with exuberant flora and fauna. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our soils evince a degree of erosion that’s so high that this has been considered the country’s chief environmental problem since 1997.

The following data offer a sense of the magnitude of the disaster:

  • 65% of cultivable lands have potential yields below 50%.
  • More than 70% of farming lands report poor (and decreasing) concentrations of organic matter. The once fertile plains surrounding the capital (which feeds nearly one third of the country’s population) is seriously affected by this problem. A century ago, it reported a high 8% of organic matter. Today, its fertility is below 3%. In the country’s east, the situation is not much different and is aggravated by draughts and desertification.
  • The agro-productive potential of Cuba’s mountains can be classified as anywhere from middle to low.
  • 60% of cultivable lands suffer from acidity, high salinity, high sodium levels, compactness, poor drainage and other ills that affect their fertility.

With such alarming signs everywhere, one cannot help but ask: will Cuba be capable of the steep increase in agricultural production we need to satisfy growing demand and to lower prices?

Environmentalists, agro-meteorologists and risk analysts who have studied our country’s energy situation don’t think that’s too likely. But a team of high-ranking economists, State officials and the fans of liberal reforms see absolutely no problem. If Vietnam could do it, why can’t we?

Notes:

  • The data on the state of Cuban soils were taken from a report prepared by Geocuba and from several articles written by environmentalist Eudel Cepero.
  • Since 1997, Cuba’s Environmental agency has regarded soil degradation as the country’s most pressing environmental issue.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.



One thought on “The Debate on Cuba’s Farm Crisis: Pessimists vs. Optimists

  • Neither extreme of state ownership of agriculture or lazie fair capitalism. Direct ownership of means of production are not needed in a modern state. Regulation and taxes work far better than direct administration. Incentives matter, people need to feel a connection between effort and reward for that effort. Technology is key to Cuba future energy and water needs. Solar is essential to sustainable energy. Solar desalination works. Reforms needed:
    -Dual currency ended
    -Foreign Investment
    -Incentive introduced with market reforms
    -Tax supported social programs

    Reply

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