As Tractors Grind to a Halt, Cuba Returns to Oxen

Photo: Progreso Semanal

HAVANA TIMES – Cuba will employ thousands more oxen to plough sugar cane fields and pull farmers’ carts due to lack of fuel for ploughing machines and transport vehicles, reported dpa news on Thursday.

Horses will also be used for transport, the ruling Communist Party’s newspaper Granma quoted party official Jose Ramon Machado as saying.

The strange thing is that such measures reflect a far more serious situation than the two or three week temporary shortage stated by President Diaz Canel.

Cuban farmers are already using some oxen, though agriculture had become largely mechanized.

The government will now add about 8,000 oxen to those already in use, the presidency on Wednesday quoted the president of the state sugar cane monopoly Azcuba as saying.

“In the face of the current fuel shortage, measures have been adopted such as incorporating about 4,000 pairs of oxen into sugar cane work and food production,” Julio Garcia Perez said.

Cuba is experiencing fuel shortages due to a drop in the imports from crisis-hit Venezuela, also under US sanctions.

The island’s sugar cane production fell to 1.2 million tons in the season ending last May, down from 1.6 million tons in the previous season.

Cuba imports the majority of the basic foods consumed by its population, a large burden for its depressed state-centered economy.

13 thoughts on “As Tractors Grind to a Halt, Cuba Returns to Oxen

  • Where are they going to find 8000 oxen on short notice??

    • Good question Sandra. But for a start there are 603 members of the Poder Popular accustomed to acting in a bovine fashion and to just saying “Moo-oo” and nod their heads to whatever the Presidential Council presents – which in turn is whatever Raul Castro has determined.
      To be more serious, it takes a long time to raise a male calf, castrate it and train it as a trace animal. But being communist, there will obviously be a five year plan.
      Remember the drive to produce 10 million tons of sugar – now actually down to 1.2 million tons? So what was done with the land used to produce sugar cane? 32% of Cuba’s agricultural land is reverting to bush!
      Who is to blame for the incompetence and mismanagement? It couldn’t possibly be the communist administration could it? Oh! I forgot, the US embargo is there to blame.

  • They are everywhere. A significant portion of agri utilizes oxen still.

    • Note Martin, the 8,000 oxen would be additional to those currently in use. Those scrub cattle that wander aimlessly around the good agricultural land reverting to bush, couldn’t pull the cork out of a bottle, let alone haul carts or equipment.

  • Sugar refining uses too much energy and brings in a low price.
    Many cane fields could to converted to higher value crops and much shorter harvest times. Some areas could three crops a year to sugar cane’s longer times to harvest. Corn uses only 90 days or thereabouts and would provide extra food for increased meat production. Many types of beans only need 75 days to harvest and potatoes about 3 months.
    Tomatoes and peppers begin producing at 60 days and last a long time depending on varieties. Per acre the return value is much higher than sugar.
    I see many more farmers changing over to corn and later tomatoes and onions.
    Certain types of beans earn good money and can be a short term harvest.

    • Interesting comment jmorton. Obviously you are suggesting a change in Cuban agricultural practice. Am I correct in thinking that when you refer to “more farmers changing over to corn and later tomatoes and onions”, that you are not referring to Cuba?
      Obviously in a country that is a natural outdoor greenhouse, high levels of production of high quality vegetables (produce) ought to be possible. But tomatoes and onions are not even available for a large part of the year and when available are usually of low quality.
      My Cuban wife had never tasted sweet corn which she now loves, until she visited the UK. It is a puzzle why Cuba doesn’t produce sweet corn.
      The fixed prices determined by the regime, leave the producer with only a minute margin on horticultural and agricultural products. So where can the Cuban producer earn “good money”?

  • Great to hear Cuba is going back to non polluting oxen. I’ve worked horses and oxen and they are better than tractors when you look at the big picture. Cuban agriculture will do better to move away from oil powered agriculture.

    • The consequences of your “big picture” Chas would be starvation for billions instead of millions. How many oxen would be required world wide, and what would their presence do to levels of methane?

  • Oxen & Cuban Youth Today: There is a Struggle Today to influence The Man Behind the Oxen & Plow, Then there is more wore out Plow Blades that can Barely do the work needed today that I have walked beside & seen first hand. Ms. Odolly,s a family member Field schools ready on command her young Oxen,
    Then younger Family members Wrancho & Nigro Take to the Fields, These young Campo Men of Past years are Now only a very few that had Not Taken the easy way of today,s Oil Controlling Life, As Tough as the Cuban Rail iron with there Vice Like Grip Hand shakes, Laughing when we meet & they ask when I will take my turn behind the Oxen of Ms. Odolly,s & Work the Soil of There Cuba. A Cuba of the Reliable direction is there Life, The Lady,s providing there Baby,s to Continue a Cycle in Life where each family member is Responsible from the youngest to the Elders. I have Asked the Family of my ways to the making Cash $ Money, Again There Laughing starts & Not Permitted, Not Permitted. I Know I Know its Canadian,s To work, Make Money & Not Interfere with a Lady & Her Oxen.

  • I have traveled for 1 month in Cuba this year, huge tracts of land left as scrub. Oxen being worked on small holdings, & the most surprising sight was new chinese tractors being used as public transport.

    • The Chinese tractors are supplied on credit – Cuba’s debt with China exceeds $25 billion. 32% of the former farmland is reverting to bush. China is known for practicing economic colonialism.

  • Looks like another “Periodo Especial en Tiempo de Paz” is on the way. Let’s see if, with San Fidel gone, the Cuban people will respond less passively this time.

  • China is only supporting. Cuba because of the U.S. embargo. I have family who live in Hong Kong. They are surprised by the waste in Cuba when went over to look at building a factory in Cuba. The Cuban government needs a complete overhaul. Using tractor for public transportation is a waste when starvation is just around the corner. A cow that produce 25 liters of milk per day takes the same feed as one oxen. After Russia pulled out when people were staving in Russia. The same thing is happening now. Canada tried to help but the Cuban government did not to share control with the little people and a foreign government.


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