Does Cuba Promote Deforestation?

Isbel Diaz Torres

The percentage of the land where tree planting has taken place in thousands of hectares.

HAVANA TIMES — After reading a brief article in the national press, I became suspicious about Cuban policy regarding forestry. What some Cuban journalists have managed to achieve is making it seem like it’s possible to promote reforestation and deforestation at the same time.

The article in question (published in Spanish in the Granma newspaper on November 20), announced the reforestation of more than 11,000 acres in the western province of Pinar del Rio, immediately noting that this area is “twice the size of those areas where timber is being cut down for industrial purposes.”

This might seem reasonable in the eyes of a less informed reader, since the principle of planting more than what is cut down seems to make sense.

However, if we analyze the current situation on the island by referencing the report “Forestry in Cuba: 2007-2011,” issued by the Office of Agricultural Statistics of the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI), things begin to look different.

That document states that “the total number of saplings of timber and fruit trees planted during the period 2007 to 2011 (…) experienced an average annual rate of decline of 4.30 percent.”

In 2011 this document reveals a significant decrease in forested areas compared to the preceding four years, so there must have been a sweeping change in strategy in 2012 for that negative trend to have been reversed.

As for those seedlings, the area planted in the period analyzed underwent an annual rate of decline 5.65 percent, with decline also experienced in 2011 – the year of lowest index in this activity.

Illegal logging.

The headline in Granma proudly announces the number of 11,000 acres planted in Pinar de Rio, but if we look at the ONEI report, it’s clear that they need to reforest much more than this, given that in 2011 (the worst year in the five-year period) more than 12,000 acres were planted in that province. It’s visible that the actual figure falls short of this.

When we discuss Pinar del Rio, we’re not talking about just any province, but the most reforested one on the island and the one that contributes most of the country’s lumber, according to that same Granma article. So what’s happening in the rest of the provinces?

The same applies to “reconstruction work” (improving the biodiversity and economic value of natural forests by adding more valuable species), where there was observed an annual downward trend of 3.70 percent.

Similar behavior was shown over that same period by other indicators, such as “maintenance work” and the “planting of green belts,” which demonstrated average annual decreases of 2.80 percent and 0.85 percent respectively.

Did the journalist and the optimistic official interviewed take this information into account? Apparently not, but as we continue reading that Granma article we come to understand what all of this involves: publicized commitments, numbers games and quotas.

“Pedro Ramirez Lara, head of the State Forestry Service (SEF), said that this number will allow Pinar del Rio Province to reach 2015 with a rate of forestation above 44.02 percent. Achieving that provincial objective would allow the country to reach its national goal of 29.3 percent forestation and thus fulfill its commitment made at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, says the article in Granma.

I know that many people put a lot of effort into reforestation; however, it seems that despite this, the country is continuing to experience a declining rate of reforestation, yet by 2015 it is made to appear that the nation will achieve the percentage agreed upon.

This is a strange reforestation policy, and what’s stranger still is that if we know that these trees are destined to future felling, though I imagine that in 2013 and 2014 they can hold back the chainsaws a little and still achieve respectable statistics for international forums.

As you can see, what remains visible in Cuba is the lack of the slightest bit of investigative journalism, which would at least be able to diversify its sources and compare information.


One thought on “Does Cuba Promote Deforestation?

  • Mmmm…. even with acknowledgement of your critical eye, I can report that Cuba is doing better than Canada in reforestation and of course much better than was the case in the years of slash and burn to increase sugar cane and profits for the US sugar companies. However, perhaps you do not wish to acknowledge this reality. Buena suerte amigo.

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