“Getting by” in Cuba’s Food Crisis + Covid-19

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

The bean harvest.

HAVANA TIMES – Today, my family will eat some tamales made from corn that I have grown on my plot of land. This product is extremely expensive right now, even out here in the countryside, because rice is missing from store shelves.

As rice is only sold via the rations booklet and it isn’t enough, (rice hasn’t been sold freely at stores for more than three months now), root vegetables and corn have been a substitute for this precious grain, although supplies are irregular. Things have completely changed.

Having a plot of fertile land, like the hectare my father has, which he lets me cultivate, is a privilege in these times of the pandemic and “temporary” crisis. I have also been able to eat “arroz congri” (rice and beans), which is the way I most like it, after more than a month of eating white rice without beans against my will. I’m making this arroz congri with beans I have harvested myself.

Luckily, my mother had kept a handful of black-eyed beans (also known as caupi) in the fridge, for a long time. I planted them with not many expectations of anything growing, because when she told me, I had already dug furrows to plant corn and I didn’t have time to germinate them. But luckily they all sprouted!

Corn stalks

The thing is, right now you can go to every market in all of the province of Holguin (and I’m sure it’s the same situation everywhere else in the country), and you won’t find a pound of beans for any price. They’ve vanished!

Even though caupi beans aren’t the best to make soups, if you boil them until they are soft enough and prepare them like a semi-dry salad, they are delicious. You can get by at least and won’t go hungry.

As rice isn’t being sold outside of the rations -which cover a third of a citizen’s monthly intake-, root vegetables are being consumed more instead. However, current production of root vegetables was planned according to a normal supply of rice. As a result, it doesn’t meet demand and they are also hard to find and expensive. To make up for this demand, people are planting them more and more, but the agricultural cycle is quite long.

I had been checking a small area of sweet potatoes I have and they are already “ready”, in spite of more experienced farmers telling me, when I planted them, that they “wouldn’t, grow because sweet potatoes planted in May go to waste.” But I insisted, not because I doubted the accumulated experience of these guajiros, but because I know that there are cycles in Nature and these influence crops, but I also know that they aren’t an exact science.

Rains came late in the spring, so I guessed that there wouldn’t be much rain in May, like there usually is, which is I’m guessing why at that time of a normal year sweet potato plants grow so many vines and few sweet potatoes.

That was exactly what happened, there wasn’t so much rain and they are growing normally and I think I’ll have a productive harvest. In early August, they will be ready for us to start eating and it will brighten up our table even more.

My Okra plants are almost magical, still giving us their fruit. Although they are producing less than they did in the beginning, it’s enough for us to eat and share. French beans too. Here in the backyard, we can have a banana bunch from time to time, the sweet variety (fruit), or plantains. They always help to lighten the mental burden that putting food on the table represents.

Okra and corn growing together.

And there are many tables: in my home, at my parents’, my two sisters’ and the table of my eldest daughter with her mother. Not to mention other neighbors, friends and relatives who I share my bounty with, from time to time.

Right now, the trend among farmers seems to be to plant things for our own consumption, varied crops, not a single crop and in quantity, which was the commercial way up until very recently. The problem is that you can evade government controls more like this, which are geared towards cooperatives, seizing everything you produce, for a price that is unprofitable a lot of the time. A kind of “temporary war communism”, which will make farming a lot more unfeasible given high inflation which had doubled the cost of living, or more.

You don’t see large numbers of pigs being reared either. Pens are normally empty or half-empty. I have the conditions to rear up to 10 animals in my iron-fenced pens (to protect them from thieves), and I only have two small sucklings. I don’t have land to plant crops for anything else, and you can’t find “fodder” on the street either. Everything has changed and most small farm businesses have been destroyed, either by the police or out of fear of police actions.

My situation isn’t widespread, I still don’t have many things like every other Cuban, but at least I have this relief. Most people live in urban areas and don’t have anywhere to plant crops. Unless they do what Gerardo Hernandez (former hero/spy turned CDR leader) recommends, urging us to grow food in pots while there are a million hectares of idle land in the country, and at least another two million not being used to their full potential.

In the meantime, we will continue to survive here as a family, sharing the fruits of the earth with our neighbors, relatives and loved ones. Having something guaranteed and within your reach to eat during these turbulent times is a great fortune. We will continue to plant.


Osmel Ramirez

I'm from Mayari, a little village in Holguín. I was born on the same day that the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. A good omen, since I identify myself as a pacifist. I am a biologist but I am passionate about politics, history and political philosophy. Writing about these topics, I got to journalism, precisely here on Havana Times. I consider myself a democratic socialist and my main motivation is to try to be useful to the positive change that Cuba needs.

27 thoughts on ““Getting by” in Cuba’s Food Crisis + Covid-19

  • Carlyle MacDuff wrote

    “Jap. If they have a bank account and you can obtain the name, address and number of that bank account, it is possible to transfer money from your own account. At the moment, I know no other way.”

    Best method to send money to Cuba is
    https://www.duales.com/

    It’s a Canadian company and you choose your method they even do home delivery of the cash for around 20 CUC’s extra.

  • Eltur,
    I think maybe you do believe in Tooth Fairy after all.
    Makes more sense than the term ‘Socialist Fascist’.
    That’s clearly a contradiction in terms.
    Best to stick with that good old Tooth Fairy……….

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