Friday, March 21, 2008

Cuban Agriculture

Finally something about Cuba, though I can't take credit for the photos. My friend, Marc, took them.

While in Cuba, we witnessed and learned of their nationally supported organic farming model. This was developed in response to loss of trade and support for their commercial agriculture model, due to the ongoing US Embargo and diminishing trade relations with the Soviet Union after the fall of the Soviet bloc. I found a paper by, Peter Rosset, on the Internet that explains it better than I. His words are in italics.

Because of the US Embargo in 1961, Cuba developed a relationship with the Soviet Union and heavily relied on them for trade. Cuba depended upon its socialist trading partners for petroleum, industrial equipment and supplies, fertilizer and pesticides, and foodstuffs. In the late 1980's relations became strained with the Soviet Union and imports/exports suffered greatly.

Cuban agriculture was based on large-scale, capital-intensive mono-culture, more similar in many ways to the Central Valley of California than to the typical Latin American small-scale farm. More than 90 percent of fertilizers and pesticides, or the ingredients to make them were imported from abroad. This demonstrates the degree of dependency exhibited by this style of farming, and the vulnerability of the island's economy to international market forces. When trade relations with the socialist bloc collapsed, pesticides and fertilizers virtually disappeared, and the availability of petroleum for agriculture dropped by half. Food imports also fell by more than a half. Suddenly, an agricultural system almost as modern and industrialized as that of California was faced with a three-pronged challenge: to essentially double food production while more than halving inputs - and at the same time maintaining export crop production so as not to further erode the country's desperate foreign exchange position.

Cuba moved to an alternative model of agriculture, one that promotes ecologically sustainable production by replacing the dependence on heavy farm machinery and chemical inputs with animal traction, crop and pasture rotation, soil conservation, organic soil inputs, biological pest control, and biofertilizers and biopesticides.

Our culinary experience in Cuba included eating only fresh fruits and vegetables: pineapple, guava, papaya, tomato, cabbage, cucumbers, green beans, onions, plantains, bananas, oranges - all grown on the island. The chicken was fresh not frozen, eh hum, it was just killed that day. My Brainiac loved "Cuban chicken" and the "chef" who made it for him. The eggs we had for breakfast each morning were especially fresh but all the butter and salt added while cooking probably enhanced the flavor just a bit. Of course, rice and beans were a staple at every meal - cooked in oil with salt and garlic added - and very tasty. Cuban food isn't spicy; spices are imports and if they were readily available or affordable, it wasn't evident.

We spent one day visiting the rural area outside of Camaguey. It was here that we saw the farm laborers bagging the rice. Below is a picture of the finished product.

Notice that this is on a blacktop road. Before the rice was scooped into the large sacks, it was occupying about 1/3 the width of the road and extended about 1/4 mile. That is where they dried the rice. Interesting.

We spent 5 days with our sister congregation in Camaguey, eating most of our meals with them. The last night we were there, they wanted to treat us to a "special meal". These people were so gracious and considerate that they wanted to share with us foods they didn't normally eat as the cost was prohibitive; fruit cocktail and canned tuna. The fruit cocktail consisted of fruits that weren't grown in Cuba. And surprisingly fish isn't something they eat much of either. It was the only time we were offered fish in our 10 days there. Camaguey isn't on the water, but it seems like fresh fish would be more affordable and common considering the proximity to the water. I never inquired. Perhaps it's the transportation involved to get fresh fish inland. A question for next trip, I guess.

1 comment:

Rio said...

food sounds incredible; reminds me of eating in Cuernavaca, Mexico when I was there for 10 days in 1992. A lot of your trip reminds me of that trip.