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.
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”.
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.
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.