But more training and autonomy is needed
The economic reforms program, originally approved in 2011, but slow in putting into practice, put local development at the heart of government policy.
By Luis Brizuela (IPS-Cuba)
HAVANA TIMES – Cuban business owner Gabriel Perez rescued and improved techniques to make artisanal flours that satisfy family diets and open market opportunities, as well as contributing to the diets of people with Celiac disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
“We are exploring the opportunity of becoming a local development project (PDL) because we would like to be useful; we don’t only see the venture as a business,” Perez said, who runs the Bacoretto mini-industry, that specializes in flours made of plantain, cassava and coconut, along with his mother and two sisters.
Born in mid-2020, in Havana’s Guanabacoa municipality, Bacoretto was one of the 720 participants at the first Havana Local Development Fair, that ran from March 28th until April 3rd, on the ExpoCuba fairground.
Organized by the Havana Government, the Fair not only exhibited and sold products made in the capital’s 15 municipalities, but it also seeks to facilitate supply chains and business networks, putting on panels about the issue and presenting the development strategies.
“We are covering a specific need, which is gluten-free flour. However, we produce very little, 30-35 kgs per month. So, the PDL format could be more effective for us to get access to funds, increase production and cover a greater demand,” Perez told IPS.
He expressed his willingness to “train those who are interested in making artisanal flours” which they can use to bake bread, biscuits and cakes.
By the end of 2021, there were 423 PDLs in the country, 74% of which were economic/productive in nature, mostly geared towards food production and local industry, tourism and trade, according to official data.
The rest were linked to socio-cultural, environmental, institutional, research, development, and innovation projects.
Producing food locally
In the Artemisa municipality, capital of the province sharing the same name, west of Havana, the PDL La Ernestina farm stands out for its contribution to sustainable food production, an issue the Government has classified as a matter of national security.
Members of the small business La Preferida, specializing in sauce production, sold its products during the first 2022 Havana Local Development Fair, on the ExpoCuba fairgrounds. Most of the products approved in the country are dedicated to the local and sustainable production of food, a matter of national security.
“Our farm specializes in getting high quality vegetable seeds, seedlings and root balls in greenhouses. They are widely accepted by local farmers because they are disease-resistant and can be acquired using eco-friendly practices,” farmer Jorge Luis Martinez pointed out. He owns La Ernestina farm which belongs to the Sierra Maestra cooperative.
Root balls are the mass of earth that is left stuck to a plant’s roots when it is transplanted.
It is a technique that maximizing savings of seeds as one of its many benefits, as well as cutting down losses during the transplanting process. It leads to greater vegetative uniformity and minimizes the risks of disease in roots and seedlings.
With earth that is classified as one of the most productive in the country, part of Artemisa’s agricultural produce is destined to contribute to feeding Havana’s 2.2 million inhabitants.
The island imports 60%-70% of its food, spending approximately 2 billion USD per year, a sum that seems unsustainable given the economic crisis that has been dragging on since the ‘90s, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which goes hand-in-hand with the US embargo for over six decades.
In a conversation with IPS, Martinez highlighted support his farm receives from the Local and Community Development Center, affiliated with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.
For 15 years, the Center has focused on promoting development in a holistic manner, as well as passing on technologies and methods, training social actors for self-managed participatory action.
Martinez, with a Math degree and a technical certificate in agronomy, pointed out that “as they are classified as a farm/school, students from the pre-university polytechnic and agricultural engineering department at the University of Artemisa, carry out their work experience here to consolidate their learning.”
The economic reforms program, passed in 2011, known as the Guidelines, advocated for making the most of community potential and put local development at the heart of government policy. The program has been slow in practice.
Then the Constitution in force since 2019, conceptualized the municipality as “local society” and recognized its autonomy.
In this regard, it is up to the local governments of Cuba’s 168 municipalities to lead and manage Local Development Strategy.
In July 2020, the Council of Ministers approved the Policy to push regional development, while in April 2021, a law “For strategic management in regional development” opened up the way for this kind of initiative, as part of a process moving towards decentralization.
Lisset Cardenas, vice-president of Guanabacoa InCuba, during the first Havana Local Development Fair. The entity boosts inclusion, a gender-focus, empowerment and environmental sustainability as cross-cutting elements in the local projects it follows.
The law defined PDLs as the “combination of resources, efforts and actions, with their own identity, to transform the existing situation into a desired situation, contributing to the development of the region where it takes action, and positively impacting the population’s quality of life.”
Legal benefits include PDLs being able to hold onto 80% of foreign currency that stems from exports, giving them preferential tax breaks and prices, and also accepts up to 50% of profits being distributed among its members, after paying tax.
Meanwhile, they can access sources of funding provided by municipal governments, international cooperation funds, or funds from state institutions, the State budget, or other financial resources coming from abroad, in keeping with current legislation.
However, this hasn’t really taken off as very few people are aware of the laws, the way the centrally-planned economy works and a work ethos characterized by the vertical decision-making process of ministries, bodies and national companies.
Experts consulted by IPS believe that business management and the State need to be separated at every level, including at a municipal level; boosting a culture of public service that prioritizes people’s needs, expectations, and desires, along with the peoples’ control of local development projects.
According to Ada Guzon, director of the Center for Local Development, the country is going through a “process of outlining responsibilities so that municipalities can exercise this autonomy.”
In her conversation with IPS, Guzon pointed out that “regardless of bureaucratic factors, misunderstandings, the main challenge has been training, values and skills, regulatory practices, and organization. Development strategies need to be “tailor-fitted” to every municipality, responding to their individual characteristics.”
For this purpose, the Center for Local Development launched a communications campaign on March 23rd called “Development begins here”, which will promote strategy for two years, as well as good practices in development management at a municipal level, both in administration and public service as well as citizens.”
The campaign forms part of the International Program for Strengthening Municipal Capacities for Local Development, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (COSUDE).
Since 2012, Cosude has funded 64 projects in 27 Cuban municipalities focused on rescuing local traditions, creating new jobs for women and young people, improving wages, the production of goods and services to improve the quality of life of children and the elderly, self-sufficiency and building and repairing homes, etc.
Focusing on training programs, the PDL Guanabacoa InCuba emerged in 2021 as an institutional project to “favor, assess and follow projects connected to development strategies” in the capital municipality, Francisco Cardenas, president of the organization, told IPS.
“We also hold workshops and we want to create a specialized class to train every participant in the region,” Cardenas pointed out.
Experts understand development as a multidimensional process that isn’t restricted to the economy.
For that reason, the municipality has approved 26 PDLs that “boost inclusion, a gender-focus, empowerment and environmental sustainability as cross-cutting elements in every development strategy guideline and project it follows,” said Lisset Cardenas, a professor at the Economics Department at University of Havana and vice-president of Guanabacoa InCuba.