Why Cuba must produce the food it needs

Freddy Pérez Cabrera

FOR a country like Cuba, with scant natural resources and severe financial
limitations, it is inadmissible to continue spending millions of dollars every
year on imported foodstuffs, many of which could be produced nationally if the
agricultural sector were more efficient and were to make due use of advances in
science and technology in order to increase yields.

As it is known, last year alone, the country had to invest more than $1.7
billion on food products in the world market, an expense closely related to
uncontrolled price increases in the majority of cases.

A group of eminent scientists, including Dr. Sergio Rodríguez Morales, director
of the National Tropical Vegetables Research Institute (INIVIT) and Osvaldo
Martínez, director of the World Economy Research Center (CIEM), recently
discussed this issue and contributed information promoting not only reflection,
but action.


According to reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in the
early 1960s, the countries of the South had an agricultural trade surplus of
close to $7 billion per year; however, by the end of the 1980s, this surplus had
disappeared. Today, the countries of the South are net importers of food,
confirming them as having more importers and fewer producers.

This is compounded by spiraling price increases in the last few years as a
result of demographic growth, the utilization of grains for biofuels, land
erosion, the depletion of aquiferous reserves, water used for irrigation being
diverted to large cities, the stagnation of agricultural yields in developed
countries, climate change phenomena and high oil prices.

In relation to biofuels, the FAO itself has acknowledged that, from 2000,
ethanol production has consumed a quarter of corn grown in the United States,
which could have fed 350 million people annually.

In order to have some idea of the gravity of the issue, in 2009 alone, 416
million tons of cereals were harvested in the United States, of which 119
million were utilized to distil ethanol for automobiles.

In Europe, where a large percentage of automobiles run on diesel fuel, there is
a growing demand for this product manufactured from plants, principally based on
rapeseed and palm oil.

As Osvaldo Martínez stated, these facts are now joined by another: financial
speculation linked to the sensitive issue of food, which has prompted the major
powers to channel approximately $13 trillion into food markets.

In addition, the world population has virtually doubled in recent years. From
1970 to date, the world has increased by 80 million persons a year, which
signifies an extra 219,000 mouths to feed every day. The majority of them will
face empty plates, a reality which would seem to have no solution, given the UN
prediction that the demand for food will increase 50% by 2030.

In terms of soil, it is estimated that one third of global cultivable land will
lose its top layer more rapidly than the surface formed by natural processes,
thus losing its inherent productivity.

In terms of food distribution, it is estimated that 25% of inhabitants in
developed countries consume 50% of foodstuffs, and the 75% living in
underdeveloped nations the remaining 50%. Similarly, those living in developed
countries spend 10-20% of their salary on food; however, this rises to close to
85% in poor countries.

Another highly interesting phenomenon which has influenced prices is the
increased demand for meat in emerging economies like Brazil, Russia, India,
China and Singapore, which in the last decade resulted in a 67% increase in
global consumption of soy flour.

For example, China has become the top producer of pork in the world, with 46% of
the total; however, for every ton of soy produced, it imports 2.5 tons, which
has led to steep rises in the price of raw materials for animal feed.

Another issue for concern is the exodus of people working the land to large
cities. Thus, while in the 1950s, one out of every four persons lived in rural
areas, the proportion now is almost half and half.

In the same way, large food producers are consuming more and exporting less.
Thus, 90% of rice in the world is produced in Asia, a continent which only
exports 10% of the grain.

No less sensitive is the subject of seeds. In the 1960s, almost all of them were
in the hands of agriculturalists or public institutions; today, just 10
corporations, such as Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Bayer, control 67% of

The case of fertilizers is similar: globally, industrial consumption of
fertilizer increased by 31% between 1996 and 2008, to prices virtually out of
the reach of poor countries. Suffice it to say, that between January 2007 and
August 2008, fertilizer prices spiraled by more than 650%. During this period,
the Mosaic corporation, the third largest in fertilizer production at global
level, increased its profits in excess of 1,000%!


Faced with this global chaos and a world committed to buying food rather than
producing it, Cuba has no alternative other than to work untiringly to produce
the food it needs and which it will need in the future, hence the priority given
to the issue by the leadership of the Revolution, which has correctly perceived
it as a problem of national security.

The fact that it is increasingly more difficult for the Cuban economy to turn to
markets for supplies of rice, grains, milk, coffee and meat which are not
produced here in sufficient quantities, requires a change of mentality and the
liberation of productive forces, by sweeping aside the objective and subjective
obstacles which stand in the way of a more rapid solution to this dilemma.

To that end it is necessary to move from being a consumer society to becoming a
sustainable one, where sound agro-ecological practices rule, as well as the
efficient use of seeds, because it is proven that 50% of increased yields at the
global level in the last 100 years have been determined by seed quality and the
introduction of new varieties. As INIVIT director Sergio Rodríguez has
confirmed, Cuba has a vast scientific potential to be harnessed to that end.

As the leader of the Revolution Fidel Castro stated at the World Food Summit in
Rome in October of 1996, “The bells that toll today for those who die of hunger
every day, will toll tomorrow for humanity in entirety if humanity did not wish
to, did not know how to or failed to be wise enough to save itself from itself.

Havana. February 23, 2012

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