The significance of continued petrol and agrochemical use

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Petrol and agrochemical input distribution and usage was uneven between regions, farms and crops, and this created a national patchwork effect of more and less intensive production. Although this pattern was caused largely by resource constraints, it was also affected by production plans, by urban and peri-urban organic production, by areas where a local variety was particularly robust or a particular organic input easily available, or by innovative individuals and institutional programmes. For example, Havana Province was more intensively farmed than its neighbour Pinar del Rio, sugar received more agro-chemicals than maize as did seed crops destined for the Seed Enterprise, and high-performing farmers received more inputs again.

Overall, and based on the continued use of petrochemicals and the intention to use them more widely when possible, there were no instances of a rural farm proactively practising organic agriculture across the whole entity. The prioritization system systematically valued agrochemical farming and undervalued organic farming. Yet in the absence of sufficient on-farm vision, knowledge, capacity and motivation to properly implement viable organic systems, this system proved a successful strategy for maintaining production levels during critical years, not only in terms of its physical contribution to yield performance, but also in terms of maintaining a degree of moral cohesion in the agricultural sector. The successes of higher-potential farms served as models for other farmers, and morale and hope were sustained. That some petrol was still available, however slight, indicated to farmers that the situation had not completely fallen apart and was going to get better. At the same time, farmers were building their knowledge on alternatives. These changes in the farming sector indicate the huge amount of learning that had taken place, both official training and spontaneous experiential learning. Although this learning did not show greater productivity gains in the short period up to the end of the 1990s, its benefits were likely to emerge over the longer term. Cuban farmers agreed that they would not go back to the high-input ways of the 1980s, and they were more prepared for a longer-term fossil energy descent.

Although farmers felt that petrol was the main limiting factor to production, when asked how they had achieved higher yields, they all identified the changes in land tenureship and in farm organization as being more important contributory factors than input availability. These changes had resulted in greater farm efficiency and higher levels of care and attention, and came with more support from the state. This perspective was substantiated by the increasing dominance of the campesino sector, which by 1998 was producing 86 per cent of tobacco, 68 per cent of maize, 73 per cent of beans and 47 per cent of roots and tubers (ONE, 2000).

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