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A monthly news brief highlighting news and events related to
agriculture, food and the environment in Cuba.

March News and Events

Dear Friends,

We hope you are all staying healthy and safe during these challenging times.

It’s hard to believe that in the midst of this unprecedented global pandemic, the Trump administration’s policy towards Cuba knows no bounds to cruelty. While Cuba sends doctors from its medical brigade to some of the most afflicted countries like Italy and China, the State Department is warning countries against accepting this humanitarian support. As the pandemic spreads, there is also hope in an anti-viral called Interferon Alpha-2B, developed in Cuba in the 1980s, and successfully being used in the treatment of COVID-19 in China, but inaccessible to communities in need in the US. Within Cuba, doctors and medical students have been deployed around the country to identify potentially at-risk citizens, including those with respiratory issues. Cuba's health care system is well-suited to deal with the pandemic due to its emphasis on preventative medicine as well as it's accessibility to all Cuban citizens free of charge. But the US sanctions limit the trade of much needed material goods. Just this week, a donation of medical equipment from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba was halted due to sanctions restrictions imposed by the US. Cuba and its people deserve relief from these sanctions in order to confront the COVID-19 crisis with proper resources.

On March 26th, a group of DC organizations who work on Cuba policy released a statement calling on the US government to suspend sanctions in order to facilitate access to humanitarian aid and medical supplies. On March 30th, a similar statement was released by the U.S. National Council of Churches in conjunction with Cuba’s Council of Churches.  A petition initiated by Cuban-American advocate of improved relations, Carlos Lazo, also asking for a lifting of sanctions during this crisis, is seeking more signatories. The sanctions against Cuba are counterproductive in a time when ideology and politics must be put aside to come together as a unified global community to confront a common global threat with cooperation and solidarity. Cuba has so much to contribute to the fight domestically and internationally and should not be hindered by the cruel and inhumane decades long blockade that the US continues to impose upon Cuba, and that the Trump administration has intensified.

The global pandemic also highlights the interdependence of human, animal, and environmental health. Several articles in the past few weeks discuss these connections and the need to end the destruction of the natural world in order to prevent more outbreaks (see articles in The Guardian, Scientific American, The Nation, Nature, Uneven Earth). One of the key links between human, animal and environmental health is what and how we produce, distribute and consume food. The global pandemic has unveiled the serious vulnerabilities of a monoculture, industrialized global food system and is pointing us towards the importance of building resilient local food systems based on the principles of agroecology. Countries around the world are already putting bans on food exports, and in the US there has been a spike in communities planting gardens and consumer’s sourcing directly from local farmers as people see the vulnerabilities of being so dependent on the global food system.

For many years, Cuba has been working towards decreasing their dependency on food imports through a variety of policies and programs including the redistribution of land, the relocalization of food systems planning to the municipal level, and a robust urban agriculture program. In the face of the current crisis, on March 30th, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food announced several new measures to increase production and improve food distribution. An analysis published this week from a leading Cuban agroecologist discusses these measures and emphasizes the importance of a systemic perspective to reforms on the island instead of a focus on import substitution. Even before the global pandemic, President Diaz-Canel commissioned the drafting of a national strategy for food security, sovereignty and nutritional education that was announced last week. Read more about the new measures, the national program, and other food, agriculture and environment news in our news summaries below.


Cuba emplea la energía de las olas para recuperar el ecosistema costero
"Cuba uses wave energy to recover the coastal ecosystem"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Ortelio González Martínez, Granma, February 26th, 2020
A team of Cuban and Mexican researchers has been able to demonstrate that wave amplifier systems have the potential to enhance the exchange of water with the sea, restore environmental indicators and aid in the recovery of coastal lagoons. In this sense, scientists estimate that the Coastal Lagoons Water Renewal project, known as Realco could benefit other coastal regions within Cuba and the Caribbean. The amplifier system uses only the energy of the waves to move the volumes of the liquid into the estuary, with a flow that ranges between 0.4 and 1.5 cubic meters per second. The infrastructure is also constituted by floodgates, a channel 240 meters long and 3.6 meters wide, a pedestrian bridge and a vehicular bridge, promenade and guardrails.

Cuba enfrenta el cambio climático con responsabilidad y cooperación, asegura investigador
"Cuba faces climate change with responsibility and cooperation, says researcher"
*Article posted in Spanish
Radio Havana Cuba, February 28th, 2020
Global experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including a Cuban delegation, recently met in Paris, France to prepare the Synthesis Report that establishes the necessary reference criteria for the negotiation processes multilateral policies. According to Ramón Pichs, a Cuban researcher and vice-president of Working Group Three, Cuba addresses all issues related to climate change with responsibility from a scientific point of view and in political decision-making, and cooperation in the international sphere. The Cuban researcher explained the relevance of Cuban government's state plan Tarea Vida (Life Task), which represents the nations commitment in responding to climate change at the highest level.

La Revolución cubana se siente orgullosa de sus campesinos
"The Cuban Revolution is proud of its peasants"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Ronald Suárez Rivas, Granma, March 1st, 2020
Sixty one years after the first revolutionary land reforms in the town of Las Martinas in Pinar del Rio, the Cuban Revolution remains proud of its peasants. This according to the Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party, José Ramón Machado Ventura, who spoke recently at the recent 12th Assembly of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) which was held in the provinces of Pinar del Río and Mayabeque. Machado Ventura went on to explain peasant empowerment according to the Cuban economic and social model and emphasized the need to boost tobacco production in the provinces in order to achieve municipal self-supply.

Permacultura, diseño para la sostenibilidad
"Permaculture, design for sustainability"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Abel Reyes Montero & Ysabel Muñoz Martínez, Granma, March 4th, 2020
Permaculture includes the design of sustainable human habitats and agricultural systems which mimics the relationships found in natural patterns and processes. It focuses primarily on the intersecting axis of food production, energy supply, landscape design and the organization of social structures. It also integrates renewable energies and implements closed material cycles in order to achieve a more sustainable use of resources in ecological, economic and social terms. In Cuba, permacultural designs can be found in farms up to 40 hectares as well as in smaller apartments and urban agricultural settings in the capital of Havana. Permaculture represents an alternative agricultural production model that contributes to building of a sustainable and food sovereign Cuba.

Dispone Holguín de amplio potencial para crecer en la producción agrícola
"Holguín has ample potential to grow in agricultural production"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Alfredo Carralero Hernández, Radio Angulo, March 5th, 2020
In the province of Holguín, the agricultural sector has ample room for growth with sufficient land for crop and livestock development and a variety of new initiatives aimed at strengthen irrigation and production in the region. According to experts, Holguín has means, technologies and especially the land and labor necessary to bring to market the quantity of products that the population demands, but which are currently not being met. In the past, lack of fuel, feed and certain essential materials has contributed to this situation, however, the agricultural sector in Holguín is hoping to overcome some of these limitations during the upcoming sowing campaign for the spring that will run between March and August.

3 things Cuba can teach us about boosting climate resilience in agriculture
By: Katherine Angier, Environmental Defense Fund, March 11th, 2020
Recently, a group of agricultural experts and stakeholders from Cuba and the Americas participated in a three-day symposium on sustainable agriculture and food systems in Cuba organized by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Foundation of Antonio Núñez Jiménez and the Vermont-Caribbean Institute. The group summarized the experience in three takeaway lessons that can help inform thinking on how to produce food in a changing climate. First, conservation practices help to build on-farm resilience. Second, sustainable farming contributes to landscape-scale resilience. Third, boosting agricultural resilience will require innovative policy and finance solutions. 

El llamado de los 'encadenamientos productivos'
"The call of the 'productive chains'"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Ricardo Torres, Progreso Semanal, March 11th, 2020
One of the historical characteristics of the Cuban economy has long been its weak internal integration. Indeed, the weakness of domestic production chains is often cited as one of the factors for Cuba's high import dependency. These obstacles have to do both with the challenges of traditional economic structures as well as the specific characteristics of a system of central planning. To address this, public policies might be more effectively directed at increasing autonomy and decision-making capabilities for companies, establishing links between different companies and institutions within the Cuban economy, and improving the state of infrastructure and material support available in the country.

Díaz-Canel chequea programa de gobierno para lograr la soberanía alimentaria del país
"Díaz-Canel checks government program to achieve the country's food sovereignty"
*Video in Spanish
Canal Caribe, March 11th, 2020
Accompanied by Marcelo Resende, the FAO Representative to Cuba, and Brazilian theologian Frei Betto, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel, issued a call today for national food sovereignty and lauded a joint effort between Cuba and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as a way to achieve it. According to Díaz-Canel, "The program focuses on a problem shared by all: how to decrease food imports in light of the fact that today, a significant portion of foreign exchange is dedicated to importing food and fuel." After several months of work, the national plan integrates several projects to strengthen crop production and guarantee supplies in the country into a strategic national effort. The joint-initiative is based on the nation's capacity to produce food in a sustainable way while also reducing its dependence on external inputs. For his part, Frei Betto celebrated the plan as a project of the future and emphasized the importance that people of Cuba be the protagonist of such efforts. 
*See also:

Cuba y FAO apuestan por garantizar soberania alimentaria
"Cuba and FAO are committed to guaranteeing food sovereignty"
*Article posted in Spanish
Prensa Latina, March 11th, 2020

Green Climate Fund approves a $119 million climate resilient project for Cuba
Food and Agricultural Organization, March 12th, 2020
The Board of the Green Climate Fund today approved a $119 million disbursement for a FAO co-designed project to boost the resilience to climate change of vulnerable rural communities in Cuba. The seven-year project aims to mitigate around 2.7 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions while working with 52,000 family farmers - almost half of them women - and introducing agroforestry practices on 35,000 hectares. These agroforestry projects will help improve water infiltration and retention in soils, combat erosion and allow for greater productivity and sustainability in local agricultural ecosystems."The project is designed to foster the development of inclusive, sustainable and resilient food systems, strengthen the conservation of natural resources, help the agriculture sector adapt to climate change and to improve the resilience of local livelihoods in managing risks," said Marcelo Resende, FAO Representative to Cuba.

Q&A: Paul Johnson, Chair, U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba
By: Dave Kurns, Successful Farming, March 17th, 2020
Paul Johnson is the chair of the United States Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), an organization with more than 100 members trying to promote two-way agricultural trade between the US and Cuba. In this interview, Johnson highlights the fact that Cuba represents a two billion dollar agricultural market even though US producers have only a fraction of the overall market share. Johnson also points to the historical relationship between the Cuban and US agricultural sectors, which have a long-standing connection even despite the US-imposed embargo for the past 60 years. In the future, he believes, decreased restrictions and increased trade would be mutually beneficial to both nations, however, it is important to note that the USACC, as opposed to organizations like CUSAN, represents many conventional and corporate agricultural interests, many of whom may well present a threat to Cuba's extensive system of small-scale family farms and to Cuba's efforts to build food sovereignty.

Cuba faces squeeze on food production as US oil sanctions bite
By: Ed Augustin, The Guardian, March 18th, 2020
Since April, the US has sanctioned oil tanker companies delivering petroleum to Cuba from Venezuela, leaving the the island short on fuel. Last September, with the island running on just 30% of petroleum deliveries, President Miguel Díaz-Canel announced emergency energy-saving measures, including the cutting of diesel quotas in the countryside, which will likely impact the islands food supply, overall. Like so much else in Cuba, the government sees food as a question of national security. To stave off inflation, the government in August imposed price controls on food, a popular measure ensuring those earning public sector salaries can just about afford a balanced diet. For now, essential foodstuffs are in stock at bodegas, and monthly rations of eggs, spam and chicken are arriving on time. But away from the lifeline planned economy, scarcity is increasing.

Incentivan en Las Tunas el empleo de técnicas agroecológicas para producir alimentos
"Encouraging the use of agroecological techniques in Las Tunas to produce food"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Yoe Hernández González, Visión Tunera, March 27th, 2020
Food production today is a vitally important task. The expanded implementation of sustainable agricultural practices, including agroecology, in the province of Las Tunas in recent years has allowed for the diversification of important crops. According to, Vidalina Ferrá, a family farmer from the cooperative Otilio Díaz in the municipality of Puerto Padre, the application of agroecological concepts and practices helps to to promote healthy food production. Using the principles of agroecology, Vidalina is able to grow a variety of crops year round at the same time that she is able to feed and maintain a variety of livestock, including turkeys, chickens, and rabbits, entirely on forage from the farm. On her farm, Vidalina is able to source almost all of the inputs and materials she needs. She believes that all farms are capable of being self-sufficient using the right techniques and practices. 

COVID-19 en Cuba: Medidas para garantizar la producción y comercialización de alimentos
"COVID-19 in Cuba: Measures to guarantee the production and marketing of food"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Randy Alonso Falcón et al., Cuba Debate, March 30th, 2020
In this time of crises, Cuba has made national food production a priority. According to officials, Cuba's agricultural system currently cultivates 6.4 million hectares of land, of which two million will now be dedicated to planting crops solely for domestic consumption. Material and financial resources will be allocated primarily for the production of rice, bananas, beans, corn, eggs and pork, which are currently in deficit. Cuba is also promoting urban, suburban and family agriculture, particularly as it contributes to local self-sufficiency. Short-cycle crops are also being promoted as a way to increase production and make the most of the land while also reducing dependence on imports overall, which cannot be guaranteed in the current global context.



POSTPONEDCuba 2020 International Agroforestry Convention
May 4-8, 2020, Havana, Cuba
Organized by the Agro-Forestry Research Institute (INAF), convened by the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG) and sponsored by the Agroforestry Business Group (GAF), this convention will include three events: the 8th Forestry Congress of Cuba , the IV International Coffee and Cocoa Congress and the VIII International Meeting of Young Researchers and VII Cuban Congress of Beekeeping. Researchers, specialists, entrepreneurs and producers from Cuba and the world are invited to attend and share information and experiences on the core issues facing agroforestry and apicultural sciences. 

POSTPONED 13th Conference of Agroecology, Organic and Sustainable Agriculture, 1st Symposium of Agroecological Youth (SIJA)
May 25-27, 2020, Havana, Cuba
The Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF) is hosting the 13th biannual Conference of Agroecology, Organic and Sustainable Agriculture as well as the 1st symposium for Agroecological Youth. All persons linked to the agricultural sector are invited to this meeting where they will find a space for reflection and exchange around the theme of environmentally-friendly and socially just agriculture and food sovereignty.The conference's organizing theme this year will be: local agricultural innovation systems, municipal self-supply, and Cuban food sovereignty.

POSTPONED4th Inter-American Climate Change Congress
June 2-4, 2020, Havana, Cuba
Organized by the Inter-American Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering (AIDIS) and the Cuban Society of Hygiene and Epidemiology, the IV Inter-American Congress on Climate Change will address among its main themes the science of climate change, its impacts and the management of risks to health, housing, ecosystems, human settlements, water and food security, among others. The conference will be based in the Havana Convention Center and will also discuss the fulfillment of sustainable development goals, mitigation and adaptation strategies. Other topics will focus on the Inventory of greenhouse gases, environmental economics and sources of financing and information and knowledge management in the face of climate change.

CUSAN is an initiative coordinated by the Vermont Caribbean Institute and funded by the Ford Foundation, the Flora Family Foundation and the Christopher Reynolds Foundation.
Copyright © 2018 Cuba-US Agroecology Network, All rights reserved.

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