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

  • April 18, 2020 at 11:43 pm

    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!

  • July 27, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    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.

  • July 26, 2019 at 12:23 am

    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.

  • July 25, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    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’.

  • July 24, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    Your determination to dispute fact illustrates your need to promote your view that the bad ol’ USA is the cause of the incompetence demonstrated by the Castro regime. The obvious need Nick is self-evident to any reader. All this silly blarney in which you are persisting is because I in response to Noel Lynch gave a brief factual answer.
    My comment regarding your “overseers” in the UK is at least as relevant as all your silly persistence, UK production and export of cars is a consequence of the foreign management I listed – so how can it be mentioned without mentioning them? Would failing to do so be “historical revisionism”? What bunkum you insist upon pursuing. Just look back and re-read it! All because of a fact that you cannot dispute but don’t like to accept, coupled with the urge to denigrate.

  • July 24, 2019 at 1:10 am

    Stating that Cuba was an exporter of fruit prior to the Revolution without mentioning that it was one of the USA’s banana republics amounts to historical revisionism. (It is the equivalence of stating that China used to export a lot of opium without mentioning the British.)
    Historical Revisionism – used to back up inflexible and dogmatic political viewpoints.
    Trying to make bizarre and irrelevant comparisons with the motor industry in the U.K. does not get you off the hook.

  • July 23, 2019 at 7:14 pm

    So Nick, the next time you speak of British car production (only one of many UK industries so governed), do remember to add that its “overseers” are Japanese, Chinese, German and American, Britain merely supplies the labour.
    When talking of cotton, remember to add that it was the UK that supported slavery in several countries and the exploitation of Indians and Egyptians by manufacturing cotton products in Lancashire.
    When talking of religion, always remember to add that the Bishop of Bristol “owned” eighty slaves.
    I guess it is for you to consider whether those facts make England a ‘banana republic’!
    Maybe you ought to consider UK practices and history before constantly criticizing the US. Your expectation that any fact stated should include a mass of additional information is really nonsensical. If as you so claim you “absolutely agree with Noel Lynch” how do you explain the deficiencies of the Castro communist system which has resulted in 32% of previously good productive land reverting to bush? Or does that waste of good land in a world of food shortages (I am not going to detail the numerous reasons for that shortage) not concern you? Are you indifferent to others hunger?

  • July 23, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    You stick to your guns Mr MacD.
    I absolutely agree with Noel Lynch. I have stated on countless occasions that post-Revolutionary agricultural policy has been poor.
    But you introduce the fact (and it is indeed a fact) that fruit was exported from Cuba prior to the Revolution but omit the fact that to a large extent Cuba was a U.S. run ‘banana republic’.
    That’s like saying that the USA was a big producer and exporter of cotton back in the day, but not mentioning slavery.

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