Isbel Diaz Torres

Ropes, straw hats, axes, backpack sprayers...

Through the Cuban media we’ve been called to go back to working the land.  While there’s nothing more legitimate than this, I have to ask myself why there are so many obstacles to engaging in such productive undertakings.

I’m not speaking of the obstacles to obtaining a parcel of land in allotments on the outskirts of the city (such an issue deserves separate treatment); I’m talking about the incomprehensible rationing of farming supplies.

A few months ago I discovered that “Tiendas Consultorio Agropecuario” (Agricultural Goods and Services Stores) sell worm humus at quite an affordable price: a pound goes for about one and a half Cuban pesos (about 6 cents USD).  I myself have bought this organic fertilizer on occasion to enrich the substrate in which I plant tree seeds. In this way I can make sure the future saplings grow up to be strong and robust.

The surprise occurred when visiting one of those stores.  I discovered that not all of the products there were available for sale to the general public. On that occasion it involved the “country store” located on 51st Avenue in the Marianao neighborhood, which still proudly shows off its store designation as a “National Model.”

The prices at this type of establishment are quite low, and because of this I wanted to buy a pair of rubber boots after purchasing my bags of fertilizer.  However, this wasn’t possible. Such articles were “only for sale to UBPCs* and Cooperatives.” The same restrictions exist on rope, straw hats, axes, fumigation backpacks and other supplies.

Not all of the products on sale were available.

Several manuals with technical recommendations for planting —exhibited on the counter— fulfilled only browsing or ornamental purposes.  “Technical instructions” for the cultivation of bananas, malanga, garlic, beets, cauliflower, papaya, pepper, lettuce, onion, cabbage and sweet potatoes couldn’t be purchased, nor could other manuals on beekeeping, poultry farming and other farming activities.

According to television, Cuban agriculture is in need of a work force.  Even without being a farmer, I’m interested in designing alternative ways of organizing work to obtain products from the land. I’m interested in applying ecological technologies, ones with minimum environmental impact that follow sustainable permaculture principles.  I’m interested in producing tree seedlings to reforest my city. For all of that I need farm tools, seeds and educational materials, but they’re difficult to find.

Cuban agro-ecology was developed intensely during the “Special Period” crisis of the 1990s. Was that movement truly ecological or was there simply no other choice? I know some farmers and scientists who do in fact believe in that movement. Some of them are struggling against transgenic crops, whose hegemony is today being attempted to be implanted in Cuban agriculture.

It’s therefore vital to free the productive forces. The measures taken in the Cuban countryside are still limited, and its incentives should also be used to stimulate urban agriculture. It’s necessary to modernize the countryside and “ruralize” the city. We should break with our old and unjust model for the organization of labor and of life in general.

(*) UBPC: Basic Units of Cooperative Production, another type of agricultural cooperative that exists in Cuba.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

3 thoughts on “Rationing at the Country Store

  • Sorry about my English, i don’t have the opportunity to practice it often…
    I agree, what matters for the government is providing it’s people with some food in order to keep them quieted like pets… even thought they claim to, they are little concerned about ecology. Crisis come and go in the largest caribbean island and only after a few years they realize that agriculture has a capital rol… never to late ! I still remember and regret when in 1978 my family was “kindly” forced to leave they’re lands to join a cooperative, leaving behind all our ressurces wich were destroyed by non accomplished plans… It was a fiasco.So we found ourselves as many others in a cruel misery… Ok, we had electricity, a russian tv and fridge but almost nothing to put in it. Sad !!! I just hope that a fertile and beautiful land like i know it is will find it’s lovers… and we could enjoy it’s magic wonders… thank you 😉 I’m a nostalgic i know…

  • This type of rationing is authoritarian bullshit. I’m sorry that you and others have been prevented from moving forward in an independent manner. I hope this changes soon. It is a worldwide problem.

  • Isbel
    Your article points directly to the heart of the matter. The leaders are looking for a solution to one problem that concerns them. Feeding people. That is their priority. It is an understandable priority given the disaster they themselves are guilty of.
    The utility you are looking for demand of more freedom were the individual is not just concern about his own survival but about the ecology. This of course to them is of no priority because if they have lost the first one (feeding people) they will lost any other tasks.
    Again this takes us back to the question of freedom.
    Who should determining what should be the priorities? The people or the leadership?
    The leadership as always from their point of view dictates what the priorities are. Implicitly or explicitly.
    When it should really be the choice of the people!
    There is the key. People should be able to on their own what the priorities are.
    We keep going back to the state paternalism. Where the state tells them what is best.
    They have a serious problem with paternalism and some how they keep refusing to let it go.
    why?
    Paternalism is responsible for the great majority of the problems in Cuba. Do they not realize this?
    The fault for paternalism does not lie on the Cuban people but on the government bureaucrats that take advantage of any opportunity to impose their will over everyone.

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