My Family Survival Journey Advances Amid the Crisis

and the Pandemic

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES – When the shortages crisis got worse last year, and rice started to go missing (and get more expensive!), I realized that I had to expand my root vegetable and banana crops in order to feed my family.

There have always been banana tree areas, burro bananas (a type of plantain for cooking) and guineo bananas (the fruit). However, while “I didn’t” eat a lot of root vegetables, I knew that if there wasn’t any rice, then my family would have to consume more root vegetables and the crops I had wouldn’t be enough. So, I put aside a 30m x 30m plot, which I had used to cultivate tobacco in the past, and I planted banana trees.

That was 10 months ago. I planted 50 banana trees, 30 guineos and 20 burros, to have the right amount of each. I planted some cassava in between them. The total investment cost me almost 2000 pesos (US $80 usd at the time), with plowing, buying seeds and paying help on several occasions to weed the area. Sometimes in haste when a downpour was due or because I was tied up with my journalistic work.

Bananas and Cassava

If it didn’t rain, I would water it with water from my well, where I have a water pump and I connect sprinklers or use a hose. This is something that has cost me a lot of hard work, over many years, because it’s not easy to get a hold of these things in Cuba. It has meant that my crops were a lot safer. But I didn’t let anyone else water them, I always do it myself to make sure they get enough water.

The cassava I planted can be harvested after six months, but a few weeks away from this date, on a rainy night some people stole approximately 30 cangres (what we call the root that has the cassavas attached to it) from me. Two-hundred pounds worth I reckon, because they still weren’t fully mature. From that day on, I had to keep guard at night to keep an eye on them, which is awful for me because even though I never sleep too much, I’m not good with a “bad night’s sleep”.

Cassava being harvested.

Even though they weren’t fully developed, we had to start eating the cassavas, which were great. Everybody was going crazy over my cassavas and I sold some of them to get back the 2000 pesos I invested in the beginning. The left-over cassavas, plus the bananas, were the prize and I took a risk and left the rest, and took great care of them. Luckily, they didn’t steal any more away from me and I still have five plants left.  I sometimes take a cangre out now and again, and we eat it at home so we don’t have to cook rice and I give them to my parents. I save a great deal with them.

The best thing is that aside from the above cassava, I planted new ones between the banana trees and they are already nice and big, with nicely-developed roots. The first lot will run out in a few days, but I’ll have more cassavas in October. Bananas too.

Corn

The first guineo tree began to grow a flower, so a bunch can grow, just the other day. Others will start flowering soon too, and they will be staggered. So, my family won’t go without them. When I say my family, I’m not only talking about my house, there are also my parents, my two sisters who have houses and their children, the house of my eldest daughter with her mother and my in-laws. The latter, my in-laws, have a big ranch and I get milk, sweet potatoes and peas from them.

I believe living in the countryside is a privilege, as is having a piece of land during these times of crisis. I feel blessed and I make the most of the land I have to reduce the effects of shortages.

I also have sweet pepper plants, okra and squash scattered on the plot. I collect their fruits every now and then and it’s enough to get by, so I don’t have to go outside to buy them, which is a great saving. On the other side, I have corn and salad beans, which are the best ones to grow during this time of year, which are known in farming here as “spring sows”.

This is the reason the pandemic hasn’t hit me too hard. I haven’t been stressed because I’m not in lockdown, nor am I idle and I almost never have to wear a mask. Nothing has changed in my life, or very little has, and the things that have changed are comforting, like the variety I’m growing or having my children at home all the time, which also has its plus side. Luckily, the work side of things hasn’t been affected either. This is also a privilege I’ve had.

Read more from Osmel’s diary here.

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.


3 thoughts on “My Family Survival Journey Advances Amid the Crisis

  • June 20, 2021 at 1:51 am
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    Cultivation produces rewards which nourish the body. Engaging in cultivation also nourishes the soul and the human spirit.
    It is a wonderful thing to get children involved in. It is so much more rewarding than staring at a screen.
    It’s good to replace the cultivation of tobacco with the cultivation of good sustaining foodstuffs.
    Food keeps you alive.
    Tobacco can do the opposite.
    It’s good to read an article as positive as this (despite the yucca thieves).
    Cultivation needs to be encouraged in Cuba. Small scale. Medium scale. Large scale.
    It would go a long way toward food self sufficiency and therefore, salvation.

  • June 19, 2021 at 8:22 pm
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    I am appalled that your comrades stole from you. The last time I was in Cuba they slipped a hook through the window slats to steal my beadsheets.

  • June 19, 2021 at 1:33 pm
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    Osmel’s story exemplifies what personal freedom in agriculture means to his family, plus his extended family. Growing a few simple crops makes a huge difference in food availability for one family. Multiply that individual freedom to grow food to other Cubans across the island and hunger and food shortages can somewhat be reduced significantly.

    As Osmel demonstrates it does not take a lot of ingenuity, money, technological expertise, to grow a few vegetables in a small plot of land. It does however take determination, hard work, motivation and the willingness to succeed at something that is of paramount importance: feeding one’s family.

    Obviously, not every Cuban has the fortune to own, or at least lease, a plot of land. Most Cubans live in large cities with no easy access to plots of land to productively produce a few vegetables. Here is where an astute government can play a significant role in contributing to the reduction in food shortages without too much effort. The Cuban government if it extended its willingness to be somewhat flexible could capture a great deal of people support by simply allowing ordinary Cubans to begin exercising their individual entrepreneurial growing abilities. Obviously, as history has proven agricultural collectivism does not work in Cuba, or anywhere.

    When one looks around the island, how much arable, fallow, land does one see. As far as the naked eye can see, there is suitable agricultural land to grow crops everywhere. All that is required is for the government to allow those entrepreneurs, those willing to get their hands dirty, those with some ambition and motivation, like Osmel, to try and do something to ameliorate the dire food shortage situation Cuba is currently experiencing.

    More often than not when growing crops for family consumption there is usually a surplus. What is wrong with allowing the vegetable grower from selling a few vegetables to neighbors? How does this interfere with communist government ideology? In fact, communist ideology is materialistic in nature. Theoretically it adheres to the principles of advancing the human being here on earth and takes great pride in celebrating human advancements and achievements in all areas of endeavors.

    Yet, when one, single, Cuban vegetable grower, a vegetable grower like Osmel, if s/he is caught growing too many potatoes and selling them on the street so that the vegetable does not rot in his home, s/he is punished severely with monetary fines and could risk losing his plot of land and any tools used in the harvest.

    Where is the incentive for any Cuban to try and improve themselves when they have to first deal with the harsh reality of working hard to produce food to feed the family, but more importantly, they have to deal with a ruthless government who finds such individual initiative to be counter Revolutionary and subject to punishment if one goes beyond the bureaucratic rules and stipulations laid out by a totalitarian government.

    Kudos to Osmel for his success in his simple vegetable growing venture. He is demonstrating the resourcefulness of the human spirit despite all the obstacles in his way. He shows that no matter how desperate things become in Cuba, the pandemic notwithstanding, he is still able, individually, to put food on the table for his immediate family, plus his extended family.

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