Cuba Shouldn’t Progress into the 20th Century

By Fernando Ravsberg

Jeffrey Sachs. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Jeffrey Sachs. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

HAVANA TIMES — “I recommend that the Cuban people don’t progress into the 20th century,” stated Doctor in Economics Jeffrey Sachs. He said this at a conference held at the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation for Nature and Humanity, which very few people attended, much less than the number of people invited.

The government’s absence from the event was particularly surprising, especially as it had to do with Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and the UN Millennium Project as well as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Special Advisor on the Millennium Development Goals.

The US professor is also an advocate for a sustainable global economy. This idea includes the name of the social model being promoted in Cuba, even though the majority of Cubans are more worried about prosperity than sustainability.

Basically, Jeffrey Sachs advises us that in our search for prosperity, we must not forget sustainability. Throughout the harshest years of our economic crisis, Cuba developed alternative practices such as organic farming, which is extremely valuable in the world today.

A few days ago, The New York Times spoke of the possibility the US has to import organic food from Cuba, sowed without tractors and grown without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Cuba doesn’t need great investment for this to become a reality, what it needs is foresight.

Initiatives, such as that of Funes and his organic farm, show that organic farming is possible in Cuba. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
Initiatives, such as that of Funes and his organic farm, show that organic farming is possible in Cuba. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Initiatives are needed such as that of engineer-farmer Fernando Funes, who has proposed to create a school on his organic farm in order to teach fellow countrymen about what they can do with the natural resources available to any farmer.

We also need our institutions to invest in this kind of agriculture so it can grow. If, beforehand, it existed because we didn’t have any other option but to use oxen, today it should be practiced in the firm belief that it will reap more profits for the farmer and is more sustainable for the country and for humanity.

Cuba has everything it needs to achieve sustainable farming, from a shortage in tractors to research centers which produce bio-fertilizers and biopesticides. In fact, the majority of the few vegetables and root crops we were able to eat during the Special Period in the ‘90s were organic.

However, as economic decisions remain centralized, it’s difficult for farmers to approach the market, which is essential for promoting this kind of farming. Years could pass before the import-export bureaucracy understands such a concept.

Or maybe they’ll never understand it, which is what happened with bicycles here in Cuba. During the Special Period in the ‘90s, loads of bikes were imported and bicycle factories were opened. However, as soon as a little bit of oil came into our hands, bikes were put to the side, and the government got rid of cycling paths, among other things.

While other countries promote cycling, cycling paths were erradicated in Cuba leaving cyclists at the mercy of traffic. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
While other countries promote cycling, cycling paths were erradicated in Cuba leaving cyclists at the mercy of traffic. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

Therefore, while cities in the developed world are promoting cycling, Cuba took apart its cycling system, under the false idea that using motor vehicles constitutes “progress”, which Jeffrey Sachs himself rejected at the conference.

Cuba is a country that doesn’t have its own oil reserves, however, it continues to base all of its transport on petrol and diesel. It seems that some of us have forgotten that this dependency once paralyzed our economy. Back in those days of the early 90’s, I made a 300 km trip along the main national highway without seeing another car on the road.

Jeffrey Sachs’ warning hasn’t come out of the blue. It’s clear that some people want us to “advance into the 20th century” and eat junk food. Not too long ago, someone with a famous surname said that Cuba was open to Coca Cola and McDonalds setting themselves up here.

Many generations of Cubans have lived their lives forced to abstain from consuming, which today can now be taken to the other extreme, confusing wellbeing with consumerism. It could be a disaster in the long run as the country is very limited in national resources.

Officials say we’re in the pursuit of a prosperous and sustainable socialist model. The most important thing for the ideologists is that this model is socialist, but for everyday Cubans it’s finally being able to achieve some kind of prosperity. I’ve only heard a few people defending sustainability.

Maybe we should start off by discussing and defining what socialism, prosperity and sustainability are so we can then seek out a balance that allows us to develop in harmony while creating a fairer society, where we can all enjoy a higher quality of life without destroying our surroundings.

9 thoughts on “Cuba Shouldn’t Progress into the 20th Century

  • This is so wrong I have seen farmers in Canada that do not use tractors or other modern equipment. They produce much less per acre as up to 20% of the food they produce is used to feed the horses. They do not have electricity which means many more people are required. They pay very low taxes and have their own privately run schools. Cuba can not afford to follow that model for the entire country. I agree that no till drills are required to limit soil damage. The use of green cover crops to reduce imported n and improve soil structure. Smart use of modern tools. oil non G.M.O. seeds chemicals, and chemical fertilizers.plants and trucks will produce much more food. This can be done safely

  • Contrary to the report above, Cuba has proven crude oil reserves of 124 million barrels and a potential of some 4.6 billion barrels in offshore reserves, by recent estimates. What Cuba lacks is capital investment to develop these resources.

    I am wary of anybody claiming to grow food “organically” simply because they don’t use chemical fertilizers. Many Cuban farmers use sewage waste as a fertilizer. This stuff is loaded with heavy metals, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and prions. It’s not safe to grow food in.

  • Frankly Ken, Cubans don’t give a damn about whether food is organic or not, Their endeavor is to find sufficient money to be able to buy food to feed their families.
    The only way to ensure that food is “organic” is ISO certification, there are all sorts of bogus organizations which issue their own ‘Certification’ – for of course a fee.

  • I believe you are right. There is a real incentive to cheat on what is organic and what is not.
    I think the Cubans are intelligent enough not to give in to that temptation. They know that eventually they would be caught. Just look at what happened to Volkswagen, caught cheating on emission controls.
    If organic food from Cuba is to have a market in the US, consumers must be confident that it is, in fact, organic.

  • The first concern ought to be how to feed the people of Cuba. Drawing attention away from the incompetence of the Castro family regime’s agricultural policies serves no useful purpose. Their policies have proven to be a dismal failure. Cubans don’t care whether food is ‘organic’ or not. Incidentally, much of the food sold as ‘organic’ doesn’t meet the ISO standards to qualify for that definition. how do you know what is ‘organic’ or not?

  • If there is a market for Cuban grown organic food in the US, that seems like an opportunity to bring in some much needed foreign money.
    I find that food that starts out unappealing can become so in the course of preparation.

  • Uhhhhhhh, what happened to the 21st century? Oh, I forget. Cuba hasn’t progressed into the 20th yet!!!

  • The concept that Cuba could become a supplier of organic foods to the US is a pipe dream. Cuba cannot under the communist regime of the Castro family supply its own people with sufficient vegetables – and a visit to any of the local markets will confirm this.
    An essential component of marketing vegetable and fruit in the US and other urbanized societies is continuity of supply. The structure of what remains of Cuba’s agriculture is not capable of performing such a role.
    Perhaps an illustration of the challenge will assist readers. The UK has a very efficient horticultural industry producing vegetables and fruit. In order the meet the requirements of the market place, businesses have extended their growing into mainland Europe. Taking celery as an example, when the UK seasonal supply is diminishing, production is switched to Spain. Even high cost specialized machinery is shipped from the UK to Spain.
    The harvesting process is to cut the celery, place it into sleeves which have a ‘sell-by’ date of seven days later, box it and put it on pallets at the field, take it immediately to a cooling facility and following cooling load it onto trucks – all this happens on day one. The trucks then cross Spain and France to the UK where they unload at distribution centres owned by one of the supermarket chains. There it has already been allocated to loads going to individual shops. That celery has to be sold by the ‘sell-by’ date only seven days from cutting. The consumers seek freshness and that is what they get. The vegetable producing companies of necessity have to be large scale – with for example production in the UK, Poland, the Czech Republic and Spain. Retailers are not concerned about supporting small inefficient producers, their concern being their customers.
    Canada in another example as a country clearly incapable of producing most vegetable crops for a prolonged period each year. Companies in California, Oregon and Mexico ship fresh product daily to Canada in large chilled containers. Visits to retailers in the UK and Spain will confirm the description given.
    Funes and his described ‘farm’ is little more than a garden and it is nice that he is able to improve his income, but his production and that of a multitude of tiny Cuban ‘farmers’ -perhaps more accurately described as crofters or peasant farming cannot possibly enter and meet the demands of the international market.
    The endeavor of Fernando Ravsberg to promote ‘organic’ production and to suggest that the alternative is ‘junk food’ is nonsense. If the world were to revert to organic production, the supply of food would diminish to a level where additional millions would starve. I repeat views I have previously expressed in these pages, Cuba must first change its agricultural policies and methods to increase food production for its own interior marketplace rather than adhering to nonsensical policies which have steadily and substantially reduced production and led of necessity to ever-increasing importation of food.
    It makes sense to address the local market rather than pursuing Alice in Wonderland thinking.

  • Growing up in the 70s and 80s in California, I am well aware of the movement towards organic farming. It usually means ugly fruits and vegetables at twice the supermarket price. It is mostly promoted by folks who strap on the Birkenstocks, hop into their Volvo SUVs and spend their Saturday mornings rooting for their kids in no-score soccer games. The Cuban people deserve the right to finally choose their own destiny, even if that destiny includes Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and beautiful, shiny and bio-engineered fruits and veggies.

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