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July 21, 2020

Food in Cuba

Opinion

July 21, 2020

Food availability was the top concern of 21 percent of Cubans responding to a recent opinion survey. The question thus comes to the fore of how the US economic blockade affects the supply of food that Cubans eat.

The US State Department liked the idea of a blockade in 1960 because it would lead to deprivation and suffering. That happened in 1992 with the so-called Cuban Democracy Act. Under that law, which is still in effect, foreign partners of US companies are prohibited from exporting goods to Cuba, including food and agricultural supplies.

Food supply in Cuba is precarious now, along with Cuba’s economy. What’s going to happen will depend on how the government manages agriculture and the economic toll of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the US economic blockade is the crucial factor.

There’s no quick fix for some problems. Sugarcane monoculture took a toll on soil fertility. The woody marabou plant, useful only for making charcoal and requiring heavy machinery to remove, has invaded 4.2 million acres of Cuban land – 18 percent of the total. Cuba has recently experienced severe drought conditions interspersed with intense rains and flooding; 60 percent of the land is at risk of desertification. The agricultural sector accounts for 40 percent of the financial losses due to hurricanes.

According to one report, disempowerment of women in rural areas “impedes progress in the agricultural sector.” Agricultural work lacks appeal for many of Cuba’s highly-schooled young people. More Cubans live in cities these days – 77 percent of the population – and the burden of feeding them has increased accordingly.

Cuba has long had to import 60-80 percent of food that is consumed there – at an annual cost of $2 billion.

Beginning in 2008, Cuba’s government instituted economic changes affecting the entire society, agriculture included. The government and Communist Party fashioned ambitious documents that outlined comprehensive reforms.

In 2008, private individuals and collectives gained long-term usage rights to small tracts of land. Now some 500,000 new, independent farmers work 4.9 million acres of agricultural land. The 5.93 million acres worked by these and other private farmers account for almost 80 percent of Cuba’s domestically produced food.

The largest class of farmers, the UBPC cooperatives, heirs of the dismembered state farms, control 8.42 million acres of Cuba’s total of 15.56 million acres of arable land; 1.16 million acres remain idle and unfarmed.

The new private farmers ought to be producing “even more food,” says one observer. Supplies, equipment, spare parts, fertilizers, and seeds provided by state agencies are often unavailable, delayed, or of low quality. Access to credit and insurance may be limited.

Excerpted from: 'Trump Administration Wants to Deprive Cubans of Food'.

Counterpunch.org