Saving Agriculture and More in Cuba

By Alberto N Jones

Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, Cuba’s current minister of Agriculture. File Photo: Oriol de la Cruz / AIN

HAVANA TIMES — For everyone who has been following the tribulations, failures, achievements and setbacks of Cuban agriculture, it’s been highly refreshing to read minister Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero’s speeches, approaches and proposals, which haven’t been heard in Cuba since the years when Carlos Rafael Rodriguez held this same position in the early ‘60s.

Ever since then, Cuban agriculture has passed through moments of glory and huge setbacks caused by the country’s own political leaders. One can’t ignore the advances, achievements, scientific breakthroughs and results that were reached in livestock, rice production, sugar, forest, silviculture and other levels, mainly as the result of the fervor and commitments an enthusiastic and vibrant youth had, determined to do away with Cuba’s underdevelopment.

Carlos Rafael Rodriguez’s vision/proposal back then about the positive impact that development, production and exports, levels which crops could reach, would have on society and the economy used to justify the fact that every professional in every field would start off with a basic salary of 750 pesos per month which would increase depending on their responsibilities and achievements, a suitable home, transport, respect and recognition within their community and the rest of the world. However, this was rejected in favor of egalitarianism, lack of authority, political supervision, inadequate wages and housing, transport and working equipment shortages.

As was to be expected, agriculture went into a phase of profound disorganization, apathy, irresponsibility and hit a downward spiral until our days, during which many jobs and techniques were lost and some areas are on their way to becoming extinct, as a result of yesterday’s and today’s baseless fear about paying decent wages, especially to farmers and agriculture professionals, and another baseless fear of creating a rural middle class in Cuba.

Only in Cuba do farm workers emigrate en masse to cities, in so far as in other countries they have many of the benefits, amenities and resources that exist in cities without the cities’ evils.

A Cuban farm hut many farm families still live in. Photo:

Cuba has to leave the primitivism imposed on farmers behind, whereby a portion of the farm families still live in huts without running water or indoor toilets. Farmers who it wants to meet the world’s increasing food demands, plowing fields with oxen and rudimentary plows, without their own transport vehicles, with impassible paths and no communication with the outside world.

Meanwhile, tractor brigades are used in other countries which are handled from a control cabin. They have sophisticated irrigation systems, they plant and fertilize seeds with drones and they have select animals who have a greater production capacity when compared to our own, as we have suffered from inbreeding depression as a result of our self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world.

All of this becomes a lot more contradictory, when it’s the same organisms and the same officials who are adamantly rejecting to pay decent wages and to create adequate working conditions for its workers, while it spends over two billion USD per year importing the same foodstuffs from the Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, the United States, etc.  Cuba is perfectly capable of producing crops with its fertile soils, kind climate and qualified work force, as long as the government doesn’t question or consider negative that people obtain economic benefits, positive incomes and a quality of life similar to our farming counterparts in other countries.

In order to understand this paradox better, all you really need to know is that the Dominican Republic’s arable land is maybe 5 or 6 times less than Cuba’s, that Cuba’s farm workers have on average twice the tecnical and cultural training of their Dominican counterparts and, moreover, that dozens of Cuban professionals have emigrated to the DR in search of a better future, who are teaching engineers and professionals, leading universities and research centers in this country, as well as in others.

Cuba has capriciously continued to act like the ostrich, burying its head in the sand and refusing to tackle the real causes of the majority of the evils that it suffers.

No other country in the world, except Cuba, can pretend not to know what’s going on, that over 10,000 doctors and dentists whose training has cost the State hundreds of millions of USD and tens of thousands of years of teaching and training and whose knowledge is lost everyday with a rake in their hands or serving in restaurants when our people and the world needs their knowledge to alleviate their ills while we continue to act as if they don’t exist.

Cuba has lost many thousands of other highly qualified professionals in all fields of learning because of the same stubbornness and pigheadedness, due to the awful wage scale that exists within the country and for withholding 80% of wages coming from missions abroad, why? Doesn’t Cuba know that the majority of these professionals wouldn’t have abandoned their missions if they had been compensated with 50% of their accrued income maybe?

How can our country demand labor justice in other countries when such shameful events take place in our own, which have demoralized, perforated and destroyed science, culture and sports in Cuba?

I congratulate Cuba’s Agriculture minister Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero for his efforts. He has identified the origin of the evils that make him frown, and he has bravely taken the first steps to rectify the situation and reinsert thousands of people into this area by handing over land and extending leases, but his proposed objectives won’t be met if they aren’t accompanied by more in-depth measures which have tied the hands of any effort to rescue and transform the national food situation and its potential export capacity, dragged them along and condemned them to failure.

Everybody knows that farms, cooperatives, UBPC (state farm enterprises), CCS (Credit and Service Cooperatives) and any other name that these state-owned or dominated bureaucratic systems of association go by, are only there to slow down, intimidate and upset farmers as they lack technical and material resources which only a group of lazy and corrupt bureaucrats live off of, who don’t produce any kind of grain and are only there to negotiate and demand benefits from members for the few material goods they have in their power to hand out.

At the beginning of the Revolution, there used to be People Stores, where farmers used to be able to buy their food and supplies, without having to be subjected to the whims and abuses of the president and his helpers at the UBPC and CCS.

Cuba has the positive experience of mixed companies in tourism and other institutions in its hands.  Why doesn’t it do the same thing in farming to hand out equipment, basic tools, seeds, pieces, fuel, which have converted leaders of the UBPC, CCS, Farms etc., into the new Tzars of the countryside?

It should dedicate the money these bureaucrats are paid into funds for buying equipment, fixing local roads, building and maintaining irrigation and drainage systems, selling disused transport equipment to get rid of Acopios (highly inefficient state buyers of farm products) and their well-known food losses in fields, thereby also getting rid of lazy, corrupt officials and their threats.

5 thoughts on “Saving Agriculture and More in Cuba

  • Looking backwards, that is true.

    Looking forwards, I welcome changes and hope they are successful.

  • Are the contending that the author’s analysis of the decline of agriculture productivity and the root causes since the Triumph of the Revolution are inaccurate?

  • Even if Mr. Rollero’s proposed reforms were allowed to be implemented (which most of them won’t be) they’re still too-little-too-late for a destroyed industry that has to be re-built from the ground up.

    Good luck to him though, I wish him the best.

  • Given the favorable climate and soil conditions in Cuba, the relatively ample availability of farmland and the high consumer demand, it continues to amaze me that the Castro dictatorship screwed up agriculture so badly. Basic governance must include the ability to feed your people. Without help, the Castro have never been able to do this.

  • My advice to Dr. Alberto N Jones is to stick to veterinary science for which he is apparently qualified and avoid agriculture where he is obviously unqualified. His assessment of Cuba’s agriculture would be laughable if it were not so blatently bogus.
    Don’t bother writing more Dr. Jones upon a subject where your knowledge is obviously limited until the consequences of Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero’s supposed plans can be demonstrated as reversing the constant decline of Cuba’s agricultural decline. Perhaps your praise of his unproven abilities will earn you some consultancy fees, where you can demonstrate the blind leading the blind. Vision indeed.

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