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The Debate on Cuba’s Farm Crisis – Pessimists vs. Optimists

The Debate on Cuba’s Farm Crisis: Pessimists vs. Optimists
February 2, 2016
Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban agriculture is going through one of its recurrent
crisis. What is the cause this time around?

One sector sees speculation and a lack of regulations as the root of the
problem, while others claim just the opposite: regulations and State
intervention is what Cuba has too much of.

What should be regulated and what should we liberalized in Cuba’s
economy and agricultural sector today? I’m not entirely sure. The only
thing I know is that all extremes have already been tried somewhere and
that they are bad.

That said, I am fascinated by how our deep-thinking analysts have
assumed it’s possible – and would be splendid – to squeeze more out of
the countryside in order to accelerate agricultural production. You can
find people as different as Machado Ventura (No. 2 in the Communist
Party), from the high echelons of the Party bureaucracy, and
reform-minded economists Juan Triana and Armando Nova, espousing this
view. There is of course no shortage of passionate defenders of full
capitalist liberalization.

I ended a previous post with two questions: “is this really our best
option or is there a better one?” No one who commented on my post paid
any attention to these queries.

I am of the opinion that it is not the only option available and it is
quite possibly not the best. I explain why below.

Climate Change

I have a relative who’s a farmer. Not long ago, he told us how delighted
he was with the top-notch field of beans he had managed to sow thanks to
the unusual heat and rains this time of the year. The day before
yesterday, we found out the unusual downpours of recent days had
destroyed his crop and enthusiasm.

Agro-meteorologists and the FAO have been saying it for years:
agricultural productivity, stability and revenues will fall. These are
not predictions for a hundred years from now, they describe a process
that’s already underway.

Last year was one of the hottest on record. Cuba’s average temperature
has risen gradually. Currently, it is 0.9 degrees Celsius above the
historical mean (and low temperatures have risen much more). This may
not seem like a lot, but it’s actually a huge increase.

The sea level has risen at an average of 1.4 millimeters every year,
contributing to the much-feared salinization processes, which already
affect 10% of the country’s land. Draughts have become chronic towards
the country’s east. Eleven out of Cuba’s 14 provinces show signs of
desertification. It does rain, but so intensely and tempestuously that
ends up ruining crops. The sugarcane harvest is behind schedule because
of the rains that unexpectedly fell during the dry season.

Energy
The other issue absent from the debate surrounding the agricultural
crisis is that of energy. Capitalism – and then the revolution – sought
to establish “modern” agriculture in Cuba, which requires as much oil as
it does water. Black gold consumption, however, has been declining in
Cuba since the end of the last decade, and not precisely because we are
becoming efficient. Since 2013, the government has not published any
statistics on this, a sign that things are getting even worse. Most
countries in the region (including ours) have already surpassed their
extraction peak and will be plunged into a serious economic, political
and social crisis at some point in time.

Soils
Tourism ads sell Cuba as a tropical island with exuberant flora and
fauna. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our soils evince a
degree of erosion that’s so high that this has been considered the
country’s chief environmental problem since 1997.

The following data offer a sense of the magnitude of the disaster:

– 65% of cultivable lands have potential yields below 50%.
– More than 70% of farming lands report poor (and decreasing)
concentrations of organic matter. The once fertile plains surrounding
the capital (which feeds nearly one third of the country’s population)
is seriously affected by this problem. A century ago, it reported a high
8% of organic matter. Today, its fertility is below 3%. In the country’s
east, the situation is not much different and is aggravated by draughts
and desertification.
– The agro-productive potential of Cuba’s mountains can be classified as
anywhere from middle to low.
60% of cultivable lands suffer from acidity, high salinity, high sodium
levels, compactness, poor drainage and other ills that affect their
fertility.
– With such alarming signs everywhere, one cannot help but ask: will
Cuba be capable of the steep increase in agricultural production we need
to satisfy growing demand and to lower prices?

Environmentalists, agro-meteorologists and risk analysts who have
studied our country’s energy situation don’t think that’s too likely.
But a team of high-ranking economists, State officials and the fans of
liberal reforms see absolutely no problem. If Vietnam could do it, why
can’t we?

Notes:

The data on the state of Cuban soils were taken from a report prepared
by Geocuba and from several articles written by environmentalist Eudel
Cepero.
Since 1997, Cuba’s Environmental agency has regarded soil degradation as
the country’s most pressing environmental issue.

Source: The Debate on Cuba’s Farm Crisis: Pessimists vs. Optimists –
Havana Times.org – www.havanatimes.org/?p=116543

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