Urban Agriculture Still Doesn’t Feed Cubans

Urban agriculture in Havana (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 27 December 2022 — Urban, suburban and family agriculture is another of the “inventions” of the communist regime that has been in force for 35 years but which has certainly had a minimal impact on the supply of food. In other words, it does not solve the problem of lack of food. The communists attribute to Raúl Castro himself nothing more and nothing less than the idea of this system, destined at the time to satisfy the growing demands of the population. Therefore, any approach to shelving this idea does not have the slightest political support.

To go back in history, it is worth remembering that then, back on December 27, 1987, when urban agriculture took its first steps, the reality was that the productive model of state agriculture had failed resoundingly in its productive objectives, and the agricultural sector, then 100% concentrated in the hands of the state, was unable to feed the entire population. This is more or less the same as now, with the exception that there are more than 200,000 land tenants who continue to fight to occupy a space with their own rights within the Cuban communist agriculture.

To Raúl Castro, in the middle of that wasteland of incompetence and unproductivity, it occurred that urban, suburban and family agriculture could be a solution that could help meet unmet demands. This would be done by cultivating pieces of plots that were left without activity on the periphery of the cities, and then extending the cultivation to patios, flower pots, parks and gardens, and to any area that was susceptible to this type of activity. Communists continue to believe that, even today, the potential of this system has not been sufficiently exploited, despite the 35 long years of its continuous failures. It’s not a valid option for strengthening local food systems.

Marrero, in the national balance of the program, along with other communist leaders, has been in charge of praising a system that, of course, has contributed very little to the solution of the lack of food for Cubans. And then there’s the data.

Marrero, however, was optimistic and pointed out in his speech that urban agriculture is the key to the implementation of the Law on Food Sovereignty and Food and Nutrition Security. In his opinion, “it is appropriate that government, political, business and technical actions are designed in all localities, which allow the potential of urban agriculture to be used in the production of food for the population.” It’s not surprising that Díaz Canel publicly has shown reservations towards that Law and what it claims to do. He knows the score.

The previous message should already sound false to the readers of this blog. It is none other than the strategic line of the 2023 economy plan of decentralization to local corporations of state competence. One of them — what a coincidence — is the whole shebang of urban agriculture. Up a creek without a paddle, and seeing that in 35 years little or nothing has been achieved, the communists in 2023 want 1,117,000 of courtyards and plots to increase by the work and grace of the local governments, although it’s necessary to transform “to more efficient forms of economic and productive management, the strengthening and dignity of food production units, and a greater incorporation.” A clear recognition of the low or non-efficiency of urban agriculture.

According to official data, the program is based on the permanent cultivation of 31,234 acres (0.2% of the total farmland), an insignificant amount of the land available for the program (about 4.9 million acres) in the Cuban economy, which in turn conditions any increase in production to the proper application of intensive techniques, combined with principles of agroecology and food sovereignty. Of these, 5,649 acres will be in organics, 7,579 acres in intensive orchards, 1,001 semi-protected acres, 12,894 acres in technified plots and 867 acres of rustic houses.

In addition, other subprograms such as crops and animals have been integrated into the urban agriculture program, so that “in these 35 years, 11 subprograms have been developed, including 5 for animal breeding, and 5 for crops. The most significant impacts are in increasing the amount of areas and in performance.” But the end result has been quite poor, if you take into account the supply that has reached the consumer markets.

The main strengths of urban agriculture, in light of what the authorities have said, are in the production of seeds, which allows the replacement of imports for six crops (kidney beans, lettuce, cucumber, okra, Swiss chard and radish), advances in agroecological culture with intercalation, crop rotation and pest control with biological and natural products. There is also the  development of bioproducts from different natural extracts with a local impact, the elaboration of rustic catch traps, planting of living barriers and the use of lime hydrate, with a favorable impact on agriculture ecosystems.

Some local experiences were also addressed. Approximately 355,800 tons of vegetables have been produced in Havana’s yards in 2022, less than 1% of the total. The task is to produce in such a way that “there can’t be one inch of land that is not planted.”

In Sancti Spíritus, there are eight UEB Urban Farms, where all the representatives of the popular councils and members of the mass organizations work directly and are part of the 290 that exist in the province. There has been an increase of 660 patios compared to last year.

In Santiago de Cuba, family patios reached 92,516, and there were 20 organoponic gardens in 2022, up from 18 in 2021.

In the speech, Marrero finally had words of special recognition fornthe main promoter of the system: Raúl Castro, and distinguished workers and provinces in this period were also mentioned. In conclusion, the Federation of Cuban Women also paid tribute to the best producers in the country. Another announcement, undoubtedly important, was that on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the program, “and because of its laudable performance during these years, the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba instituted December 27 as Worker’s Day of Urban, Suburban and Family Agriculture.” Almost nothing for something that has not served — far from it — to feed the population.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Related articles:

Organoponics and Food Self-sufficiency in Cuba

Without Water There Won’t be Squash in Urban Gardens

Another ‘Great Achievement’ of the Revolution: Havana Turned Into an Urban Garden

Fidel Castro’s 13 Most Notorious Failures


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