Though caloric intake has not yet reached the levels of the 1980s, few would dispute that domestic food production in Cuba has made a remarkable recovery. During the 1996-1997 growing season, Cuba attained its highest ever production level for ten of the thirteen basic items in the Cuban diet.35 And in 1999, agriculture production increased by 21 percent over the previous year.36 Comparing food production to 1989 levels is not quite so favorable, but still impressive.
Animal protein production still remains close to depressed 1994 levels. This is partially because the market reforms cannot apply to meat, eggs and milk, which are not easily sold in farmers markets, due mostly to lack of refrigeration. Likewise, the agro-ecological model is not so easily applied to animal production. But the biggest factor keeping animal protein production down is that the transition from industrial animal breeding to sustainable, ecologically feasible animal breeding must proceed at a much slower pace than the similar transition in agriculture. Factors slowing the transition in animal breeding include waste disposal, disease control, and humane treatment of the animals.
Exports are still considerably lower than 1989 levels. Only citrus exports have regained that level. Coffee and tobacco exports still lag behind, and sugar exports are only a fraction of 1989 levels.37 In the case of sugar production, the US embargo and the low price of sugar on the world market are keeping production depressed. But the Cuban government is formulating plans to increase sugar exports in an attempt to bring in much-needed foreign revenue and investment.
Aside from restoring export levels and animal protein production, the future of the new Cuban agricultural model faces three major challenges: reconciling price distortions between the US dollar and the Cuban peso, reconciling state control and private initiatives, and overcoming limits to the ecological model. Concerning this latter challenge, agroecological farming requires more land and more labor than industrial farming. While Cuba does have the land base to continue agricultural expansion, rural areas have experienced a labor shortage. Only 15 percent of the Cuban population lives in the countryside.38 The agricultural sector has been able to reverse the rural-to-urban migration and attract the necessary workforce, but nobody is certain how long this reversal will continue. And then there is the uncertain balance between farm labor requirements, the higher caloric intake necessary for busy farmhands, and agricultural production.
The new Cuban model of agriculture faces many challenges, both internally and externally, but that does not diminish its current success. And there are many analysts who feel that the Cuban experiment may hold many of the keys to the future survival of civilization.
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