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

July News Summary

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Its been another busy month for food and environment related news in Cuba. On July 16th, an extraordinary meeting of the Counsel of Ministers approved an Economic and Social Strategy to confront Covid-19 and address the current economic crisis, which was presented on national television by the President and several Ministers. A number of the 16 key areas where changes will happen are aimed at improving food sovereignty by increasing production, substituting imports and increasing autonomy in the sector. One of the significant announcements is the allowance of non-state actors to import and export goods and services. This could have a marked impact on the food and agriculture sector given that more than 70% of cultivated land in Cuba is managed by private farmers and the non-state cooperative sector. Another priority area is stimulating local and territorial development as a key strategy for improving the economy and livelihoods from the bottom up.

In a significant milestone for agroecology and food sovereignty in Cuba, the Counsel of Ministers approved a national Plan for Food Sovereignty and Nutritional Education that was developed through a multisectoral, transdisciplinary and participatory process with 22 ministries, 11 enterprise groups, 25 scientific institutions, 10 civil society organizations and 5 international organizations. The Plan SAN, as it is known in Spanish, is rooted in strengthening local food systems, from farm to plate, to diversify production, improve nutrition, increase access and availability of food, and substitute imports.

Just a few days before the Plan SAN was approved, the Cuban government passed a law-decree allowing the planting of genetically modified crops, a technological approach at odds with the principles of sustainable agriculture and agroecology. For analysis from Cuban experts who oppose GMOs, economist Dr. Juan Triana posted a response in OnCubaNews and Fernando Funes Monzote and Eduardo Freye Roach co-edited a book exploring what can be gained and lost in the use of GMOs in Cuba.

Other notable stories include: the opening of the first wholesale food market authorized to sell to the non-state sector; the increased production and use of biofertilizers as a substitute to imported synthetic inputs; the strategic importance of cassava as a substitute for wheat and corn imports; new measures to diversify marketing options; and renewed commitments from the European Union to continue their support of sustainable agriculture and health.

Gobierno y ciencia, codo a codo también en la producción de alimentos
"Government and science, side by side also in food production"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Yaima Puig Meneses,  Granma, June 27th, 2020
In a recent conference with government representatives, scientists and academics from various Cuban institutions, president Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledged that the country was still far from achieving food and nutritional sovereignty and reiterated calls to increase domestic agricultural production. He emphasized the important role that science and research have to play in the continual process of improving the Cuban agricultural system, a reality which has become even more evident through the past months of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Díaz-Canel, one of the greatest challenges in improving the food system in Cuba is finding ways to make best use of the knowledge and human capacities that already exist within the country. By developing public policies that tap into this potential, especially by connecting researchers and extensionists with agricultural producers, Díaz-Canel believes it is not only possible to produce more food in Cuba but to also gradually reduce food imports, which represents an important step towards national food sovereignty. 
See also: 
El impacto de la ciencia en la Agricultura tiene que concretarse
"The impact of science in agriculture has to materialize"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Luz Marina Reyes Caballero, Periódico 26, July 1st, 2020

Rice production in Cuba far from consumption needs
OnCuba, July 1st, 2020
Of the 700,000 tons of rice needed for domestic consumption in Cuba, recent numbers released by the official state newspaper, the Granma, indicate that only 162,000 will be produced in 2020. According to Lázaro Díaz, a representative from the MINAGRI Agricultural Business Group, the 2020 rice harvest was not as affected by drought as in previous years, but rather by the strengthening of the US embargo on Cuba, which has limited the fuel needed for processing. It has also functioned to limit the import of fertilizer and other necessary inputs needed for production. Díaz did not mention any specific impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, Cuba marked a record harvest for domestic rice production at 304,000 tons. Only a year later, those numbers had dropped to 246,700 tons. Despite these setbacks, however, Díaz projects that production will increase to approximately 600,000 tons by 2030 due to recent investments in the industry. New cooperation agreements with the governments of Japan and Vietnam, which are aimed at increasing rice production and yields in Cuba, are also expected to contribute to these projections. 
See also:
Retos y realidades de la producción arrocera en Cuba
"Challenges and realities of rice production in Cuba"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Abel Reyes Montero,  Granma, June 30th, 2020

Apremian en Cuba nuevas formas de comercialización de productos agropecuarios
"New forms of marketing of agricultural products are urged in Cuba"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Armando Nova González, InterPress Service in Cuba, July 1st 2020
In the centrally-planned nation of Cuba, the work of storing, marketing and distributing agricultural products is largely carried out by a government agency called Acopio, which operates as part of the Ministry of Agriculture. As a result of this centralized structure, recent reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicate that average food losses range from 25 percent to 50 percent, a reality which has become particularly apparent during the coronavirus pandemic. In early June, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel made reference to the need to streamline and localize the marketing and distribution processes to avoid such losses. One way of doing this, according to the author of the article, is to bring producers together through new secondary cooperatives, which would allow them to directly access both retail and wholesale markets. Not only would this help achieve direct linkages between producers and retailers, but it would also help minimize intermediate steps and cut down on losses. Other solutions to the food loss problem include efforts to decentralize the state collection agency as much as possible while increasing local autonomy in the storage and marketing process. This would create space for local innovation and aid in the search for diverse alternatives that can address the specific challenges and needs in different parts of the country.
See also:
El viaje infinito, de la tierra al comedor
"The infinite journey, from the land to the dining room"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Rachel D. Rojas, Progreso Semenal, July 8th 2020


La soberanía alimentaria y nutricional: Una prioridad
"Food and nutrition sovereignty: A priority"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Leticia Martínez Hernández, Granma, July 10th 2020
At a recent meeting with scientists and experts from various Cuban institutions, president Miguel Díaz-Canel discussed the importance of achieving food and nutritional sovereignty in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, he highlighted several key advances in the policies and practices surrounding agricultural extension and the use of biofertilizers that he believed would contribute to these efforts. According to Luis Agustín Gómez Jorrín, the general director of the Cuban Institute of Soils, only about 20% of cultivated fields in Cuba currently receive treatment with agrochemicals annually. Based on recent experiences with biofertilizer production in Cuba,  Gómez Jorrín believes between 25% and 50% of these chemical fertilizers could be replaced by biological substitutes. Additionally, he believes that 40% of chemical pesticide use could also be replaced by biopesticides. This would not only reduce the use of agrochemicals overall, but would also reduce the need to import these materials from abroad. The meeting concluded by confirming the need for a national policy to further promote the production, development and use of biofertilizers and other bioproducts.

Un vivero para sembrar arrecifes de coral
"A nursery for planting coral reefs"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Ronald Suárez Rivas,  Granma, July 7th, 2020
In Cuba, almost 98% of the nation's 3,200 kilometres of coastline are home to coral reefs of varying types and species, including the iconic staghorn coral, or Acropora cervicornis. Once one of the most common Caribbean corals, the staghorn's numbers have fallen dramatically in the past decades due to a number of human impacts, including climate change. It is now critically endangered. To save Cuba's staghorn corals, The Nature Conservancy has begun work with several Cuban institutions to establish coral nurseries in the marine area of Guanahacabibes National Park. With the help of Cuban researchers and divers, these nurseries provide protected spaces for the growing coral colonies which are then transplanted onto reefs elsewhere. To date, the methodology has been so successful that in 2019, another nursery was built in front of the National Aquarium of Cuba on the north coast of Havana with the aim of further improving reefs in other parts of the country.

Desde el Oriente, más allá del control de la pandemia
"From the East, beyond pandemic control"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Leidys María Labrador Herrera et al.,  Granma, July 12th, 2020
In eastern Cuba, which constitutes the provinces of Granma, Guantánamo, Las Tunas, Santiago de Cuba and Holguín, a systematic response to the coronavirus has helped slow the spread of the disease leading to some of the lowest infection rates in the entire nation. As a result, the region has successfully completed phase-2 of its planned reopening and is now preparing for a full revival of economic activities. While not neglecting the need for continued health safety measures, the most pressing challenge for Cuba's eastern region now lies in food production. All five of the eastern provinces contain significant areas of farmland, much of which has been planted with crops such as bananas, cassava, corn and squash that are essential for national consumption. Enormous efforts are currently being undertaken to boost production in these eastern region, including significant investments in food processing facilities and a continued emphasis on short-cycle crops. With COVID-19 cases being more prevalent in Cuba's western regions, the importance of eastern Cuba in terms of domestic food production is becoming increasingly evident. 

Crece la más «dulce» producción cubana
"The "sweetest" Cuban production grows"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Maylenis Oliva Perrales, Periódico 26, July 13th 2020
In recent years, there has been a push to increase the production of high-value, exportable items in Cuba, items which are in high demand on the international markets. As a result, bee products, such as honey, have come to represent some of the most important export items for the island nation. In many parts of Cuba, especially the provinces of Matanzas, Granma and Las Tunas, ideal beekeeping conditions have allowed the industry to flourish. Additionally, due to Cuba's unique agricultural system and ecological context, a significant portion of the honey produced domestically is organic, meaning it is not only free of chemical products, but that it also fetches higher prices on the market. Today, Cuban beekeeping has grown to produce not only the honey and wax for export, but also other secondary bee products including pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and venom. In addition, the growing beekeeping sector contributes to Cuba's economy in other ways, specifically by helping to regulate Cuban ecosystems and improve agriculture. According to 2018 statistics, beekeeping in Cuba has produces an average of 8,000 tons of honey per year from approximately 186,000 hives.
*See also
Apicultores de Las Tunas alcanzan el mejor récord productivo de su historia
"Las Tunas beekeepers reach the best production record in their history"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Luz Marina Reyes Caballero, Periódico 26, July 7th 2020

Industria camagüeyana produce fertilizante ecológico probado en plantaciones 'con muy buenos resultados'
"Camaguey industry produces proven organic fertilizer in plantations 'with very good results'"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Enrique Atiénzar Rivero, Periódico 26, July 13th 2020
In Camaguey province, a former zeolite production facility has been converted to begin the production of Agromena G, an ecological fertilizer and animal feed additive also known as Zoad. Agromena G is a one hundred percent natural product, made up of magnesite, zeolite, phosphorite, calcium carbonate and organic matter such as earthworm humus and manure. To date, Agromena G has been widely used in Camagüey and has show promising results in improving the production of various agricultural crops, including corn, cucumber, rice and chili pepper. Increasingly, it use is also being expanded into other provinces such as Ciego de Ávila and Las Tunsa, and into other agricultural crops, such as sugarcane. The development of the Agromena G industry represents one aspect of Cuba's recent push to increase the use of bioproducts, including biofertilizers and biopesticides, as a way of reducing the import and use of agrochemicals in Cuban agriculture. 

Naciones Unidas apoya Plan Nacional de Soberanía Alimentaria y Educación Nutricional en Cuba
"United Nations supports the National Plan for Food Sovereignty and Nutritional Education in Cuba"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Sara Paz Martín, Periódico 26, July 15th 2020
After more than a year of work, the National Plan for Food Sovereignty and Nutritional Education (Plan SAN) is set to be launched in Cuba. According to the president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, the proposal integrates strategies and programs on sustainable food production along with Cuba's other main food system challenge, namely the reduction of food imports. With the support of the UN and FAO, the SAN plan highlights the essential role that local food systems play in improving both food production and diversification, priorities that have been central to Cuba's agricultural system over the past several decades. Additionally, the SAN plan addresses other strategic issues by working to guarantee food quality and safety, reduce food waste and losses, and mobilize cultural and communication systems in Cuba in order to strengthen food and nutritional education.

Vista hace fe
"Seeing is believing"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Yurislenia Pardo Ortega, Adelante, July 15th 2020
Bioproducts, or biologically-based, renewable agricultural inputs, are being increasingly used by Cuban farmers in order to improve agricultural production guided by the principles of agroecology. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the island was cut off from traditional sources of agrochemicals leading to the first rise in the use of domestically-produced bioproducts in Cuban agriculture. Now with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the tightening of the US embargo, the use of bioproducts is once again coming to the fore. Common types of bioproducts used in Cuba include dimargón, which makes use of nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria in order to provide nutrients to crops, as well as other "organo-mineral" amendments such as lime, which help control for harmful fungi, bacteria and insects. Many of these bioproducts not only improve agricultural yields but are also produced domestically in Cuba. In recent years, through cooperation between the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) and other scientific organizations, significant efforts have been made to improve local availability of bioproducts with the aim of improving Cuba's national food sovereignty. 

‘World’s most beautiful snails’ threatened by illegal trade
By: Douglas Main, National Geographic, July 15th 2020
Cuba is home to the world’s greatest diversity of snails including many species of snails of the genus Polymita, also known as painted snails. Prized for their incredible natural colors and patterns, the shells of painted snails have long been sought by collectors in the United States and Europe as well as tourists to the island. This demand is one reason why Cuba lists all six native species of Polymita as critically endangered, and why it’s been illegal for more than a decade to take these snails from the wild. Despite these regulations, however, the illegal market for painted snail shells persists both domestically and internationally. To protect the painted snails, many of which are as ecologically vulnerable as they are important, Cuban conservationists are working to educate Cubans and visitors about the animals. There are also efforts to partner with farmers in eastern Cuba to encourage them to care for the Polymita on their land with the hopes of preserving these animals for generations to come.
See also:
Las polimitas, una joya natural a preservar
"Las Polimitas, a natural jewel to preserve"
*Article posted in Spanish
Buen Viaje a Cuba, April, 29th 2020

Crean Departamento de Gestión Costera en Holguín
"Department of Coastal Management created in Holguín "
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Yenni Torres, ahora!, July, 17th 2020
Thanks to the efforts of the Ecovalor project, which is run by the Center for Research and Environmental Services in Cuba's eastern territory, a new Coastal Management Department (GeCos) has recently been created for the province of Holguín. The mission of the newly-minted department is to develop research projects and to provide scientific and technical services aimed at the management of coastal areas. This is particularly important in the province of Holguín due to the fact that previously, despite an abundance of coastal areas, there was no central authority capable of a systematic and integrated approach to coastal management. One of the main concerns of GeCos is reconciling the need for economic development, such as tourism, with environmental conservation efforts in the region.

En el camino de la alimentación en Cuba
"On the road to food in Cuba"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Mairyn Artega Díaz, Cuba Sí, July 20th 2020
In Cuba, increasing domestic food sovereignty has long been a goal of the national government, one that has become particularly pronounced with the shortages brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In this sense, according to Sergio Rodríguez Morales, food sovereignty for the island nation is linked not only to economic independence, but also to political independence, more broadly. Morales is the general director of the Tropical Root Crops Research Institute (INIVIT), a one-of-a-kind research institution in Cuba that focuses on the cataloging, breeding and dissemination of varieties of root crops, in particular cassava, a starchy root vegetable that is a staple of Cuban diets. In addition to being an important food source for humans, cassava can also be used as feed for animals. In the field, cassava is hearty, being both drought-resistant and quite adaptable to different soil types. Because of these characteristics and others, Morales and his colleagues believe that cassava is a strategic crop for the substitution of wheat and corn imports, and might prove vital in increasing Cuba's domestic food production and national food sovereignty.

Ecotaxis se unirán al transporte de La Habana desde inicios de agosto
"Ecotaxis will join the transport of Havana from the beginning of August"
*Article posted in Spanish
OnCuba, July 24th 2020
While public transport has been a challenge in Cuba in recent decades due to its dependence on fossil fuels, the government has begun introducing a number of alternatives, including electric and hybrid buses and motorcycles, as a way of improving the sector. In early August, public transport in the capital of Havana will see the arrival of twenty three electric tricycles, called ecotaxis, as part of a United Nations Development Program initiative to mitigate climate change on the island. With a range of 100 kilometres and a speed of 45 kilometres per hour, the ecotaxis will be capable of transporting up to six passengers each. The project also includes a 10 KW photovoltaic station which will be used to charge the vehicles at night and deliver stored energy to the national grid during the day.

Sesiona en Caibarién taller del proyecto Resiliencia Costera
"Coastal Resilience project workshop in Caibarién"
*Article posted in Spanish
Radio Caibarién, July 24th 2020
In the coastal city of Caibarién, a European Union funded project aimed at improving coastal resilience is currently underway. At a recent meeting of concerned parties, a number of specialists, including project director Luis Orlando Pichardo Moya, emphasized the importance of an Early Warning System in the process of building coastal resilience in Caibarién and elsewhere. Such a system requires monitoring, systematic data analysis and coordination in order to function, but would greatly assist in risk management and preparedness in the face of natural disasters. Other specialists emphasized the importance of implementing natural solutions that are in line with the social, ecological and economic priorities laid out in the Cuban national plan to confront climate change, called Tarea Vida (Life Project). It is believed that the Coastal Resilience project in Caibarién might provide a template for similar projects to be carried out in a number of other coastal communities throughout Cuba. 

Cuba opens door to GM crops amid food crisis
OnCuba, July 26th 2020
This Thursday, Cuba officially opened up to the import of transgenic crops for the first time. The move comes in the midst food shortages that have been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, which has emptied the shelves of state stores and complicated the supply of basic foodstuff. As in past crises, Cuban leaders have urged citizens to increase and diversify local food production to reduce dependence on imports, however, the scale of the current situation requires additional solutions. “We’re not saying that [transgenic technology] is the only way, but that it is one more alternative, a complement to conventional agriculture, that is important given the current situation the country is going through,” said the deputy minister of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment. Despite the fact that trials to grow genetically-modified maize in Cuba began in 2009, GM foods still carry a stigma on the island, in part due to repeated warnings by the late president Fidel Castro. The leader of the Cuban Revolution dedicated his last years promoting organic agriculture, which has become widespread on the island, while harshly criticizing the use of GM foods. 
See also:
Adopta Cuba disposición jurídica para el uso de organismos genéticamente modificados en la agricultura
"Cuba adopts legal provision for the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Deny Extremera San Martín, Cuba Debate, July 24th 2020
Nuevo Decreto-ley regula uso de los Organismos Genéticamente Modificados en la agricultura
"New Decree-law regulates the use of Genetically Modified Organisms in agriculture"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Yanel Blanco Miranda,  Juventud Técnica, July 24th 2020

¿Debe Cuba promover la introducción de organismos genéticamente modificados en la agricultura?
"Should Cuba promote the introduction of genetically modified organisms in agriculture?"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Dr. C Juan Triana Cordoví, OnCuba, July 27th 2020
Several days ago, the Cuban government approved the import of genetically-modified crops for the first time with the hopes that such varieties will contribute to domestic agricultural production which has struggled lately due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the World Health Organization “genetically modified organisms can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally." In this sense, GMOs are "new" organisms that present a number of ethical concerns in their use and regulation. While Cuba has conducted its own research on GMOs since 2009, opponents point to the fact that the yields of the most common GMO crops are often equal to or lower than the yields for traditional varieties. This is in addition to a number of other negative economic, ecological and socio-cultural impacts to which genetically modified organisms have been linked. With these potential consequences in mind, the new Cuban regulations stipulate a number of measures to ensure that the introduction of GMO crops is consistent with the goals of sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty. Still, skeptics such as the author of this article, believe that advances in Cuban food production could be achieved by addressing other food system challenges, such as idle lands and bureaucratic inefficiencies, rather than resorting to genetically modified crops. 

Díaz-Canel: Todo lo que hagamos tiene que tener una articulación en el municipio
"Díaz-Canel: Everything we do must have an articulation in the municipality"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Yaima Puig Meneses, Cuba Debate, July 27th 2020
In a recent meeting, president Miguel Díaz-Canel and the Council of Ministers officially adopted Cuba's 2030 National Plan for Economic and Social Development. Additionally, the council approved a plan for territorial development as well as the Food Sovereignty and Nutrition Education Plan (Plan SAN), both of which emphasize the role of local perspectives and municipal autonomy in confronting the various challenges that currently face the island nation. These developments represent important victories for Cuba's agroecology movement. Together, these various national plans aim to not only produce food sustainably, but to also give the entire Cuban population access to a balanced, nutritious and safe diet. Additionally, these plans endeavor to reduce dependence on external inputs, such as the importation and use of agrochemicals, while also promoting cultural diversity and environmental responsibility.

Formalizados los primeros 200 contratos en mercado mayorista para sector no estatal
"Formalized the first 200 contracts in the wholesale market for the non-state sector"
*Article posted in Spanish
Cuba Debate, July 27th 2020
On July 24th, the Mercabal wholesale market opened its doors in Nuevo Vedado as one of the first such markets in Cuba. The market provides wholesale goods to self-employed, non-agricultural cooperatives in Havana, such as those that run cafeterias, restaurants, bars and bakeries. As of today, contracts for over 200 non-state vendors have been approved which has helped to increase the quantity and diversity of the food that can be purchased while also lowering prices. While significant challenges remain, the success of Mercabal bodes well for the two other wholesale markets that are expected to open in Havana in August, one in San Miguel del Padrón and the other in Playa. Following these experiences, there are plans to gradually expand wholesale markets to other provinces across Cuba.

Cooperación Unión Europea-Cuba se adapta a los tiempos de pandemia y se alista para 2021-2027
"European Union-Cuba cooperation adapts to times of pandemic and is ready for 2021-2027"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Deny Extremera San Martín & Irene Pérez, Cuba Debate, July 28th 2020
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union is reorienting a number of its projects with Cuba in the field of sustainable agriculture and health in order to better support the efforts of the Caribbean country in tackling the disease. In particular, long-standing EU-Cuba collaborations, including projects that support local agricultural and food systems like Agrocadenas and Basal, will receive additional funds and several new contracts to expand and enhance their work. This is in addition to a number of other new projects and investments from European partners such as the Spanish NGO Movement for Peace (MDPL), the Italian NGO WeWorld-GVC and the French Development Agency (AFD), among others. For this latest cycle of EU-Cuba cooperation, which will last from 2021-2027, the current priorities being raised include sustainable agriculture, renewable energy development and combating climate change in addition to the digitization of the country and the further development of the private sector. According to Juan Garay, the head of cooperation of the EU delegation to Cuba, "Cuba has some interesting things to learn from the European Union, and the European Union has a lot to learn from Cuba."


Black, Radical, and Campesino in Revolutionary Cuba
By: Sara Kozameh, Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, June 30th, 2020
In 1959, Cuba’s Revolutionary leaders passed a sweeping Agrarian Reform. This article focuses on a group of black radical peasant organizers, many of them Communists, in order to rethink the origins of the revolutionary project. Based on oral histories, archival documents, and testimonial narratives, this article decenters Cuba’s revolutionary leaders to recover the lost stories and victories of black radicals who laid the groundwork for one of the revolution’s most socially, economically, and politically transformative measures and whose long-held commitment to socialism and agrarian justice made an early and deep impact on the origins and course of the Cuban Revolution.

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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