Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba, we wouldn’t have needed to talk about reforestation if the land hadn’t been deforested to clear it to plant sugarcane, build cities and roads and for livestock grazing and the planting of crops.
I’ve read some snide comments from people who don’t know the situation and therefore blame the Cuban government for deforestation in the country, which result in periods of drought.
However reality is very different and diametrically opposed.
In a sense, the history of the Cuban forest begins with the conquest of the island by the Spanish. According to documents of the time, 90 percent of the country was covered by forests.
With the growth of the timber industry, for building boats and houses, and the need for land to grow sugarcane, forests began to decline. Much precious wood was burned in sugar mills and later in boilers or finally ended up as charcoal.
Back then, no one cared about the economic importance of this wood or the need to replace felled trees. There was no consciousness of the importance of forests for human survival.
At the end of the nineteenth century, when Spanish colonial rule in Cuba also ended, the country still had 53 percent of its territory covered by forests. Given the existing population at the time, this could be considered a low level of forested area, and the need to replenish the trees that were cut.
Nevertheless the capitalists of the sugar industry — Cubans and foreigners alike — only cared about planting sugarcane and making profits. No one concerned themselves with the reforestation of the country, so by the time of the triumph of the revolution on January 1, 1959, only 14 percent of the country was forested.
Quite the opposite of what some people say, the revolutionary government was concerned about the reforestation of the country from the very beginning. It’s true that at first this task wasn’t well organized. Large mobilizations of people were organized to plant trees that were often not protected or cultivated properly; therefore the survival rate was much less than adequate.
But the activity became better organized. A forest rangers corps was created to prevent indiscriminate logging, which has done so much damage to our forest patrimony. Likewise, the National Forestry Act was enacted, which regulates all activity related to this issue across the country.
Currently, 26.7 percent of Cuba is covered by forests, and work is underway to achieve coverage of 29.3 percent by 2015.
This would put us very close to the real possibilities for optimal reforestation, which is on the order of 32 percent. The rest of the land is required for other crops and livestock.
Forestry work in the country engages more than 40,000 employees, of which 1,200 are professional graduates from our universities. That means that progress around this task — undertaken in a scientific and organized manner — is guaranteed.
What are being planted are “productive forests,” for wood and its derivatives, firewood and charcoal production; “protective forests,” for the conservation of water and soil, as well as coastal areas; and “conservation forests,” which preserve biodiversity.
Cuba doesn’t boast about its achievements, because there’s still much to be done. Yet what has been accomplished is more than a little, and work is being approached very seriously to obtain as many forested areas as possible and to maintain them. Just the opposite happens in the rest of the world, where each year more than 32 million acres (13 million hectares) of forests are lost.
Globally, deforestation accounts for one of the principal factors in the emission of greenhouse gases, though Cuba has had among the fastest growing forest cover in Latin America in the last 50 years.
Much has been written about the importance of forests to life on earth, but I don’t want to bore the readers with lots of figures. I only want to share one piece of information that might make the point: If forests disappear, life will disappear. Therefore the Cuban government has given reforestation the place it deserves.