Looking for Cuba’s lost agriculture

David Canela

HAVANA TIMES, March 2 — On January 18, the Granma newspaper published a surprising fact, which made me question if Cuba could still be considered an agricultural country.

It said that according to the National Livestock Control Center in the country “there is a deficit of over 59 000 animals” needed for animal traction in the fields. I felt infuriated.

They were not talking about tractors, or water systems, or even greenhouses, crop dusting planes or dairy machinery, but about oxen to plow the land and pull the wagons and carts. So where is agriculture in Cuba?

If the process of urbanization has increased dramatically worldwide in the last half century as a natural consequence of progress, it has intensified even more in Cuba due to the lack of economic stimulus engendered by socialist collectivism and the improper use of agricultural land and its harvests.

The fact that Granma should still be discussing these days how far a peasant can be considered to be the owner of his own cattle and crops, is downright embarrassing.

This country used to boast of being one of the biggest sugar cane producers in the world; at the end of the 80s sugar cane was actually Cuba’s main source of income.

In 2003-2004 the majority of Cuba’s sugar mills were dismantled, not having been modernized in decades, ushering in the final chapter in the history of the sugar cane industry on the island.

Now they want to breathe life back into the heroine so the saga can continue uninterrupted.

Tobacco lives off the prestige it acquired during the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century. It has remained a cultural icon for the tourist magazines, and a luxury item that brings in juicy returns at the Feria del Habano Cigar auctions which brings in millions.

Coffee has had a less glorious fate: it is sold only in the hard currency stores, and mixed half with chicory in the local shops it hardly merits the name of coffee. Chocolate is a fiction encountered more often in ice cream.

Nobody talks about citrus exports any more. Tangerines for sale are on the street are conspicuous by their absence even though they are in season. Fruits and vegetables are eaten in season, since there are not refrigerated storage facilities they cannot be sold all year round.

And it’s easier to eat an imported apple than a guanabana.

With the marabou scrub brush sprouting in the fields and farmers migrating to the cities, some people in the urban centers cultivate their own little organic vegetable plots and there are the intensive “organoponico” urban farms.

But who said that by making a vegetable plot out of the garden or turning the terrace of the house into a pigsty (bath included) you were developing the national economy, or providing families with a sure fire way of feeding themselves?

Is it all being done in the name of ecology, to avoid petrol consumption in the transportation? Our cities need parks, not illusory gardens of Eden.

The land needs to be repopulated by its owners, and by workers interested in ecological, diversified production.

The State should provide incentives to help small producers run their farms properly and ensure they develop along ecologically sustainable lines.

That way we could reduce the food imports which account for over half the food we consume in this country. The effort being made in rice production is a good example we could multiply.

One thought on “Looking for Cuba’s lost agriculture

  • Good article, David. Lots of food for thought.

    When Engels and Marx came into the socialist movement in the mid-1800s, the urgent task of the monopoly bankers and bourgeoisie was to split the peasantry and urban small bourgeoisie from the socialist-minded working class. Engels and Marx accomplished this split by re-defining socialism from direct worker/cooperative ownership of the means of production to state monopoly ownership of everything, in the name of the workers.

    This meant that a promised future socialist republic would expropriate the peasants’ land and the shops and restaurants of the small bourgeoisie, and make these former owners into state employees and managers. This of course alienated the small bourgeoisie from the revolutionary workers and made them loathe socialism.

    By 1968 the Cuban Revolution made the catastrophic mistake of forcing the Marxian idea of state monopoly onto Cuba. Most productive property became state property, and this was thought to be “real” socialism. The agricultural sector was destroyed by this idea, and suffers to this day.

    The way to revitalize the agricultural sector, as well as the service sector is to re-institute private productive property rights and embrace the concept that “real” socialism is a co-project of the small bourgeoisie, proletariat and intelligentsia. If the peasants can own their own land, they will solve all of Cuba’s food problems.

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