Isbel Diaz Torres
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.
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.