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.

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