The reported response to the crisis

In 1990, the state declared the start of a 'Special Period in Peace Time', a self-imposed state of emergency which urged the need for sacrifices in living standards, including an acceptance of insufficient food supplies, in order to buy the country time to build up its levels of self-sufficiency and particularly to meet basic food requirements (Rosset and Moore, 1997).6 Within this framework, the agricultural sector was tasked with finding solutions to production problems, and to do so using local resources. Given the importance that the Revolution placed on science and technology, this food security mandate was spearheaded by the scientific community.7 Researchers who had previously been beavering away in isolation on the development of alternative technologies were now mobilized and brought into the mainstream, and already-existing plans to produce organic pesticide and fertilizer products were put into operation and scaled-up in order to replace the shortfall of imported chemical inputs. In place of tractors, traditional teams of oxen were reinstated, and the knowledge and skills of older farmers were sought for the handling of the livestock as well as for other issues.

One major chronicler of this period, Rosset (2000, p206), had the following to say about the change in agricultural technologies:

In response to the crisis, the Cuban government launched a national effort to convert the nation's agricultural sector from high input agriculture to low input, self-reliant farming practices on an unprecedented scale. Because of the drastically reduced availability of chemical inputs, the state hurried to replace them with locally produced, and in most cases biological, substitutes. This has meant bio-pesticides (microbial products) and natural enemies to combat insect pests, resistant plant varieties, crop rotations and microbial antagonists to combat plant pathogens, and better rotations and cover cropping to suppress weeds. Synthetic fertilizers have been replaced by bio-fertilizers, earthworms, compost, other organic fertilizers, natural rock phosphate, animal and green manures, and the integration of grazing animals. In place of tractors, for which fuel, tyres and spare parts were largely unavailable, there has been a sweeping return to animal traction.

The area of change that gained the most international coverage and interest was that of urban agriculture (Weaver, 1997; Murphy, 1999). As the disastrous impacts of the import shortages grew more visible, the state decreed that all fallow and unused urban land be cultivated in perpetuity (en usufructo) and free from taxes. People from all professions took up this opportunity and, supported by the state, developed an intensive network of cultivated plots. By 1998,

Havana had more than 26,000 urban gardens, producing 540,000 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables (Moskow, 1999).

For agriculture as a whole, yields of many basic food items increased, in some crops to levels higher than those of the previous decade, especially those of roots, tubers and fresh vegetables (Rosset, 1998; Funes, 2002). The food crisis had, according to reports, been lessened or even overcome. As Rosset (1996, p66) explains: 'Although no figures are available, numerous interviews and personal observations indicate that by mid-1995 the vast majority of Cubans no longer faced drastic reductions of their basic food supply.'

It was not only agricultural production that had apparently been transformed. According to reports, the Cuban government had succeeded in maintaining its socialist policy of feeding its people. Cuba had historically placed high priority on social concerns and had invested in the development and provision of education, communication channels, housing and health care facilities. It was this solid foundation that provided the bedrock for Cuba's survival (Rosset and Moore, 1997). Just over mid-way through the decade, Fidel Castro announced (1996): 'We can proudly say that despite the difficult circumstances, we were able to ensure equal access opportunities for the entire population to the available food, health and education.'

0 0

Post a comment