Food Sovereignty Possible in Cuba

Ivet González

Photo from Viñales, Cuba by Michael Roy

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 25 (IPS) — Based on their own experience, Luisa Garcia and Jorge Medina, whose farm in Cuba produces a variety of food that feeds them year-round, said they have no doubt that food sovereignty can be achieved in their country and in the rest of Latin America.

“Farmers have to work in an integrated manner on their farms, producing everything: that is the main aim,” Medina, a beneficiary of the Local Agricultural Innovation Program (PIAL) for the past six years, told IPS.

The project, co-financed by Switzerland, was launched in 2000 with the aim of getting local farmers involved in agricultural innovation, crop diversity and agro-ecology.

PIAL has helped improve the lives of 50,000 farmers in 46 of the 169 municipalities in this Caribbean island nation. The participants, in turn, help spread their newfound knowledge in their communities.

Pointing happily to the green field of beans — the third harvest since October — on their farm near the town of San José de las Lajas, 38 km from Havana, Medina stressed the need for further changes in agriculture.

“Farmers should let young people and science onto their farms, because they always bring something new, and they give you ideas,” said Medina, who joined an agricultural cooperative six years ago, after working as a farm mechanic.

Before the couple joined PIAL, they only grew two kinds of grains, compared to 30 today. They also grow fruits, vegetables, and jack-beans, which serve as a living mulch — a vegetative cover grown in combination with crops.

They also produce worm humus, which they mix with other bio-fertilizers produced by agricultural research centers in Cuba.

For their own consumption, they have a garden, and Garcia cans, dries and preserves fruits, vegetables and spices, so they have a range of seasonal flavors on their table year-round.

They also grow soybeans to produce their own cooking oil, as part of a project run by the cooperative they belong to.

Most of what they produce is sold through the cooperative and by means of other marketing systems, ensuring the couple and their two children a decent income.

But the issue of food sovereignty, which Garcia and Medina see as within reach, is not a focus of public debate in this country.

Plowing to plant. Photo: Matthew Siffert

“Food sovereignty is not an issue in Cuba: there is talk about food security but never about sovereignty, which implies changing the content of the food we eat,” Mexican researcher Ana Esther Ceceña told IPS.

According to local researchers, local production only covers 20 percent of the food needs of the population of 11.2 million people, which translates into a level of dependency on imports difficult for an economy starved of hard currency to deal with.

Developing countries have to find their own ways of meeting the nutritional needs of their populations and modifying their concept of food needs, which almost always differs from the country’s real possibilities, said Ceceña, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who has made frequent visits to Cuba over the last five years.

Since 2008, access to a healthy nutritional diet has declined around the world due to the impact of the global economic crisis that broke out that year in the United States.

Against that backdrop, achieving food sovereignty has become even more urgent.

The concept of food sovereignty was coined by Via Campesina, the international peasant movement, in 1996. It refers to the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems, rather than being dominated by the demands of markets and corporations.

The goal of food sovereignty also includes greater participation in agricultural production by local rural populations, expanded access to healthy, ecological food, reduction of food imports to a minimum, recognition of the right of consumers to control their food and nutrition, and national sustainability and autonomy in food production.

In 2009, 53 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean were malnourished — out of a total population of 589 million — according to a regional forum on food held in the Chilean capital in June 2010 under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Hunger-Free Latin America and Caribbean Initiative.

Cleaning beans. Photo: Yosvanny Deya

In Cuba, PIAL promotes local self-sufficiency in food supplies in the areas where it is active, and an increase in organic products grown by local farmers using experimental, innovative techniques as well as traditional methods like crop rotation.

“Thanks to the research, with the little we have, we have managed to boost production,” said Garcia, pointing out that optimum use is made of every corner of their six-hectare farm, named “Las Chiverías”.

Besides feeding themselves, the family supplies the local market and makes donations to a school and to a maternity home.

But the success story of “Las Chiverías” is not typical. President Raul Castro has been pushing for changes in the country’s agricultural system since 2008, such as the distribution of fallow land to farmers, in order to increase production and replace imports with locally produced food.

Humberto Ríos, the founder of PIAL and a winner of the prestigious 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize — known informally as the “Green Nobel” — said that achieving food sovereignty in Cuba would require “further freeing up small and medium-sized farmers, old and new users of the system, and giving them much greater facilities in terms of the market.”

In the case of Cuba, “planning (by agricultural institutions) should be generated to an extent by consumer demand,” said Ríos, who is now a researcher at the University of Havana Center of Demographic Studies.

Food security in the Medina-Garcia family, meanwhile, means they are not worried by the government’s recent austerity measures, like the gradual elimination over the next year of the ration book system, used since the 1960s to ensure that everyone has access to a basket of basic goods at heavily subsidized prices.

“It doesn’t affect me to lose the ration book; I agree with what they’re doing. We supply our own needs with grains, vegetables, fruit and preserves,” Medina said. Over the last year, the only products purchased by the family with the ration card are sugar and salt.



10 thoughts on “Food Sovereignty Possible in Cuba

  • Grady
    I had a good laugh at this “Hello! Earth to Julio” 🙂

    I am not against practicing Mondragon type projects for people who like that. What I will be against is to limit society on a whole nation or whole world to only Mondragon type project. That will be definitely and assault on freedom.

    War and warmongering is not intrinsic of a particular economical system. Let us not forget that the Soviet Union who was socialist did their own shared of invading nations out there.
    The Cuban regime even without the means has done similarly.

    Best to you Grady.

  • Julio, I agree with most of what you say. But the system in the United States is not the benign, free economic system you seem to believe it is.

    The US gov’t spends more on a vast military-industrial-financial establishment than the GDPs of most other nations combined. It has over 600 military bases around the world. It has invaded more countries to impose its will than any other nation or empire in history. Is imperialist military domination and its vast record of slaughter of the peoples “freedom?”

    The US and European banks bestride the world and suck out the people’s substance through massive credit debt interest charges that are the worst form of parasitism. You, interestingly enough, are totally hung up on the fact that the bureaucratic establishment in Cuba has enormous shortcomings, and it seems to blind you to anything else.

    Even after I’ve explained to you over and over what real, workable socialism is–a socialist cooperative republic with plenty of small entrepreneurial ownership–you still say something like “socialism doesn’t work.” Hello! Earth to Julio! The statist socialism of Cuba doesn’t work, but modern cooperative socialism does and will work in the US and in every country.

    Thanks for the exchange. I’ve had my say.

  • Once you admit that freedom and democracy should be at the center of any society. Then everything else will fall into place on his own. Those who want something like Mondragon will get it. Those that prefer working or creating private enterprises will also be able to do so and yet those that will like to work as a collective and share the profits should also be able to do that. What should not happen is the imposing of one specific system on everyone because that conduces right back to totalitarianism and authoritarianism.

  • Dear Grady

    I agree. I am here because I think is good to exchange ideas specially with those who think different than me and that are not blinded by dogma.

    I believe I can prove that the Cuban elite really have no care for those that belong to the working class.
    While things are not totally black and white and can back up each of my statements. Not just by what I witness but what many others have witness themselves. It is out of this collective experience that I tell you that there is very little difference between the Regime elite and the old bourgeoisie. They have only change in appearance. They exchange money for power. But in reality they now have both “Money and Power”.

    I believe above all socialism, capitalism or your version of socialism are just economical systems. Forms to organize economies for a nation. While I do not believe the socialist form of economy is a viable type of economy as it has been amply proven not to work.

    What I think should be the central theme of conversation is about the right of people to have freedom. To be able to organize in any economical form the like to. Without interference from the state. I believe that is already possible in many capitalist countries. For example I pointed before that the Mondragon project you quote many times was develop in a capitalist country (Spain and also US).
    So it is more important I think to let people have the real choice and let each person decide on their own what they like to do.
    The moment a government of nation said that this economical form or that economical form has priority and the other is prohibited then there is and end to the freedom of those groups of people who believe in the other system.

    The particular brand of socialism or Stalinist practiced in Cuba is on its way to extinction for a simple reason. It can not adapt. It has become a force against change and to be able to advance change is needed.

    Once you admit that freedom and democracy should be at…

  • Julio, well, I am a socialist and am proud of it. This does not mean however that we cannot exchange ideas.

    I don’t believe your contention that those on top in Cuba do not care about the working people on the bottom. They do care, or they would not have dedicated their lives long ago to them. But this is not the issue in our conversation. The issue, it seems to me, is why the Marxists cannot look at the reality in front of them and see that the theoretical basis of their concept of “socialism” is erroneous and self-destructive. Why are their minds fossilized?

    They even puff themselves up and claim to the four winds that they are “scientific.” This is absurd. Science is based on the methodology of science, which is experimental. But the Marxists are not experimental, at all, and do not cultivate an experimental frame of mind. The cultivate a fanatical faith in the bleating of two long-dead bourgeois theorists.

    It all goes back to that stipulation on the next-to-last page of the second chapter of the 1848 Communist Manifesto where the socialist state is required to “centralize” all the instruments of production in its hands. This was not written by Joseph Stalin, but by Engels and Marx. The Marxists of all stripes, the Cuban leaders and the Trotskyists who criticize them believe that this statist formula is Holy Scripture. The results of Marxian statism are as we see.

    You are wrong about capitalism, Julio. You seem not even to know what it is and what it is doing to the world. But the Marxists are wrong about socialism, about what is workable socialism, as well. They can’t see that the Mondragon workers have proved the economic basis of workable socialism, and then progress experimentally to a cooperative republic.

    By not discarding their statist theoretical origins and their fossilized state of mind, they apparently will allow monopoly capitalism to take humanity all the way to extinction.

  • I am not a socialist as you all know and I do not believe in socialism. But if I understand correctly what I learned back in my days at school. Socialism was supposed to be for the working class.

    How come the great majority of the leftist here are supporting a regime in Cuba that does not care about the working class?

    Food for thought.

  • Grady
    This is something that is also very perplexing to me. Why does the Cuban regime gets a free pass?
    Let me explain myself. You all have read about the different stories narrated by many of the posters here at HavanaTimes and possibly some other sources independent from the Cuban regime and here is the picture we get.

    The great majority of Cubans live in very deep poverty. This poverty is basically created by the regime on purpose. The Cubans that do have some education are exploited by the regime in order to get hard currency or exchange for venezuelan oil. (The poverty they are forced to live with I think is intentional so that they can become slaves and obey orders and commands from above without question).

    So we see a class of people that have been in power for around 52 years, just over a half century. They do not seem to care for the people. The ones at the bottom. They seem to have organized their system in a way to keep and secure power for themselves and family members. These group of people seem to be the antithesis of what they claimed to be. Yet those that belong to the international left do not seem to see all of this. Is it dishonesty? Is it complicity? I can not believe they can ignore so easily the level of exploitation to what the cubans at the bottom of Castros pyramid are exploited. Some are probably blinded by the so call “free benefits” like education and heath. But anyone with very little reasoning will know those things are not really free but paid handsomely by those cubans at the bottom.

    You see I know all this because I was one at the bottom of the pyramid. I was once their slave too. I would expect those at the left if they are honest to side with the people of Cuba, those at the bottom and not with an exploitative elite class that calls it self Socialist.

    I am not a socialist as you all know and I do not believe in socialism. But if I understand correctly what I learned back in my days at school. Socialism was…

  • Julio: Thanks for your admittedly correct comment.

    Their minds are fossilized because they have converted the very human originators of state monopoly socialism into supernatural oracles of absolute truth. They disdain religion, yet convert the socialist movement into a secular cult-of-personality that is exactly like a strange religious cult.

    I’ve tried for many months to use the term “state monopoly socialism” with Marxists, but they just can’t understand it. Even though the state owning everything must be state monopoly, they just can’t accept it. This lack of understanding can only reflect intellectual fossilization, just as you say.

    It’s odd that a pro-capitalist like you can use his brain for simple analysis, and the anti-capitalists can’t see what is right before their eyes. Asi es la vida . . .

  • Grady, you are persistent! 🙂
    What you are talking about is heresy for them.
    Their minds are too fossilize to be given new “revolutionary” ideas :-).
    Best to you.

  • “Food sovereignty” is an excellent concept. I wonder if Cuba can ever achieve it however, as long as the leading political party clings to the old concept that only state property is “socialist” property.

    According to the old concept, the land and all farms and ranches are nationalized, and all farmers and ranchers become employees of the state. This has never worked in any country where it has been tried, and Cuba is no exception. Cuban agriculture, like Soviet agriculture before it, was ruined by statization, under the spurious notion that only state property can be “socialist.”

    If Cuba wishes to have food sovereignty, she needs to re-institute the legal right of farmers and ranchers to own and hold legal title to their lands. The idea of “usufruct,” where rural producers are loaned land without legal ownership is a bureaucratic attempt to get the productivity of the small owner-producer, but without the “non-socialist” pride of legal ownership.

    The thing that sabotages everything in Cuba, sabotages all schemes at meaningful reform and perfection of socialism, is the ideological prejudice against private productive property rights. As long as this ideological error is maintained, workable socialism can never be achieved.

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