Good Fruit Grower

January 2017

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22 JANUARY 1, 2017 GOOD FRUIT GROWER F arms in Cuba start with a great advantage, the island's fertile red soil. But after that, things get tough. Cuban farms are notoriously ineffi cient because of a lack of reliable machinery, chemicals, fuel and other nec- essary materials for a modern operation. On my trip to Cuba last fall, it took time to realize what I was missing: the sound of engines. On a visit to a farming coop- erative outside of Havana, oxen pulled plows, workers used hand implements and a man stripped tree limbs by yanking them through a cutting device. Briefl y, one worker used a chain saw to trim wood; that was the only power machine I saw. The Recursos Humanos offi ce was a rusted-out trailer hauled to the shade. Other structures were assembled from wood scraps and roofed with thatch. To call this primitive, however, would be wrong and a misreading of Cuban innovations in the face of shortages. When Cuba's economy tanked after losing Soviet patronage, farmers went organic. To better manage water, they put in systems with micro emitters. To stay current with research, they get briefi ngs from Cuba's science and agriculture. (Cuba's equivalent of Good Fruit Grower is Ciencias Tecnicas Agropecuarias, pub- lished four times a year for 300 readers.) How farming works in Cuba bewilders a newcomer. According to an estimate of Cuba's farm potential by Miguel Altieri, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Cuba has 6 million hectares of fairly level land and another million hectares of gently sloping land. (One hectare equals 2.47 acres.) More than half of that land remains uncultivated. The rest is managed by individuals (about 25 percent) and by cooperatives (about 42 percent). Some peasant farmers own and manage land deeded to them in 1959 when President Fidel Castro broke up large private plantations. Some individu- als who own land outright put their farms into cooperatives. Others lease land from the government under limited terms that make it diffi cult for any long-term deci- sions. "Ownership" is an elusive concept. Cuba's farms are not effi cient. They grow only about 40 percent of the food needed for the island's 11 million people. Improving agricultural productivity is an explicit goal of the Cuban government as it "updates" the national socialist model. Despite this effort, farm output has barely risen since 2008, when President Raul Castro formally took over for his brother Fidel. Production of rice and beans, the Cuban farms: Shortages of fuel, chemicals and machinery make Cuban farms organic but not effi cient. story and photos by O. Casey Corr Workers at this farm cooperative mainly used hand tools. A chain saw was the only power tool seen here during a September visit. Inadequate supplies of chemicals, machinery and other farm necessities remain barriers to farm productivity. With chronic shortages of fuel and machinery, plowing of the red soil at this Havana farm cooperative is done by oxen. Cuban growers face numerous challenges in getting essential supplies. Cuba's government is trying to increase farm productivity in the nation's "update" of its socialist economic model. Making virtue from

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