Cuba’s Abundant Land and Food Shortages

Miguel Arias Sanchez

Illustration by Carlos

HAVANA TIMES – Cuba is an underdeveloped or developing country, whatever one wants to call it. It is not a country that has large industries, it depends on revenue from tourism, tobacco, rum and sugar. And that it is not enough to cover our needs and resolve our problems.

However, there is something blessed in this nation that has not been given the importance it deserves, and it is the land.

From a very young age I always heard my father say: “this land is blessed, drop a sweet potato in it and immediately a plant is born, it is a very fertile land and anything that is sowed brings a harvest, and very good quality.”

But despite all this, we Cubans do not value in all its magnitude the benefits it can bring for our diet – and life in general – that we can obtain from its cultivation.

During the Special Period crisis in the 1990s and the lack of food of all kinds, which created a very difficult situation in the country, came ideas to alleviate the serious problem with our own effort. 

So, we began to sow in every space that was possible; also the famous organopónicos (urban intensive agriculture) were created, which still exist today in many municipalities and which greatly help in the acquisition of some vegetables and condiments.  Back then in the 90s every yard, garden or barren field in the cities became cultivated.

But that was dismissed as soon as the situation “improved” a little bit with the help of Venezuela.

This makes no sense in an eminently agricultural and poor country, where many products are imported to meet the needs of the population that could be produced right here.

I have seen documentaries from Japan, where the inhabitants sow on the roofs of the buildings which become large intensive gardens for the consumption of the residents. I have also been told that in Australia they sow on the walls, and there is an important development of permaculture, another way of relating to the earth, taking care of it and taking advantage of its benefits. These are not poor countries like Cuba.

Therefore we, with serious economic problems, have given ourselves the luxury for years of turning our back to the earth. It is enough to travel to the provinces to notice the amount of uncultivated land, abandoned or delivered to the marabou bush weed.

In these difficult times, which may become even more difficult, where food is expensive or scarce, it would be very good idea and above all very healthy one, to think seriously about how to obtain these products at home. Besides guaranteeing the food of all, it would alleviate the tensions and stress that Cubans suffer every day trying to put something on the table.


Miguel Arias

Miguel Arias Sánchez: I was born in Regla in 1949. That’s where I went to elementary and high school. Afterwards I took courses to be a teacher and did that for several years. I did my military service and as soon as I got out I studied formally to be a teacher graduating at the University of Havana. I taught in classrooms for nearly 20 years. I had the opportunity to travel and see another reality. I returned and am currently doing different self-employed activities.

25 thoughts on “Cuba’s Abundant Land and Food Shortages

  • Whatever happened in the past, the fact is much land in Cuba seems to be wasted. I drove the whole length of the island last year (when i fell in love with Cuba), and was struck by just how very much land there is. There is a LOT of potential farmland in Cuba, and the climate is perfect to grow a great many things.
    About 6 years ago, I traveled thru China, and out in the country, you see vegetable gardens EVERYWHERE. And people out working in them. Everywhere you see this; I think it is just in their culture. Maybe they have community gardens or something.
    Cuba should not be spending hard currency on importing any fruits or vegetables. That seems crazy.
    If anything, they should be exporting those things.
    But, back to the gardens: Maybe there is a stigma to ‘being a farmer’ or something, but up here in the USA, it is considered very hip to have your own little garden! Then you can impress your guests while making that dish, by running outside and picking some herbs from your own little plant and topping the salad with them!
    …and they all will be very impressed..! “Well, look at that!”
    But Everywhere there is some dirt, large or small, there could be a fruit tree or a vegetable garden, and that includes people’s porches. Even just a few pots on the porch can grow some vegetables or herbs for your kitchen. And it is fun!
    It is wonderful, (and empowering) to pick a ripe tomato from your own plant and pop it in your mouth!

  • OK Nick, so I read your comment about the UK not being a “banana republic” – you used the term, I did not! What I did was to comment upon fruit production in Cuba prior to and following the revolution. For some vague reason -evident only to yourself, you persisted in endeavoring to criticize my comment for not referring to the “overseer”. As that was an obvious reference to the then owners and investors in the fruit producing businesses belonging to another country, I drew the comparison to the British car industry being similarly owned and managed by foreign “overseers”.
    So just similarly, read my comment carefully.

  • Ayyy,,hoy si me quedé en blanco ,,,con tantos comentarios tan rebuscados y sofisticados,,sobre la producción agrícola de Cuba y la exportación de frutas y q la culpa siempre la tiene EU,,,Quienes son los q gobiernan hoy en Cuba,,donde están los celebros de esos militares q son los dueños de las tierras en Cuba,,?,,porque no cultivan las tierras y le dan alimentos al pueblo?…No es interés del gobierno Castro- Comunista de q el pueblo tenga comida en la mesa,,parece q es más fácil dominar a un pueblo hambriento…Es todo.

  • You just don’t get it do you Mr MacD ?
    Or to put it another way, you will always refuse to admit when you are caught out.
    I have lost count of the amount of times that I have stated my opinion regarding the Cuba’s malfunctioning agricultural policies.
    I blame the U.S for all manner of things, but I would challenge you to produce one single example of me blaming the USA for Cuba’s post Revolutionary agricultural policies.
    I have also lost count of the amount of times that you have been caught out putting a spin on historical facts in forlorn attempts to back up your blunt political viewpoints.
    Perhaps you may wish to read the following very carefully:
    There is nothing within the structure or ownership of UK car production which makes the U.K. even slightly resemble a ‘banana republic’.

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