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

April News and Events

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In the early hours of April 29th, there was an armed attack on the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC. We at CUSAN strongly condemn this attack and are saddened to see these acts of violence emboldened in a context of increased hostile rhetoric towards Cuba under this administration. We call on the Trump administration to fully investigate this attack and ensure the safety of foreign diplomats as required under the Vienna Convention.

On this May Day 2020, we honor and celebrate the workers of the world. The global pandemic has unveiled the deep inequalities and injustices experienced by many food system workers – farmers, packers, grocery store workers. We stand in solidarity with these essential workers. All over the world, as in Cuba, today would see millions of people marching in the streets, but today we say ‘Mi Casa es mi Plaza – My House is my Plaza’.  

In this April news summary we share the media stories from local and national Cuban outlets as well as US and international outlets covering the current challenges in food access and responses from the Cuban government as well as the private sector. Fuel shortages (exacerbated by increasingly restrictive US sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela) and a drop in tourism dollars due to border closures have contributed to disrupted food imports to Cuba. This has led to unduly long lines that undermine social distancing and risk the public. To prevent public throngs at food distribution sites and to alleviate food insecurity, Cuba is expanding its libreta ration system: subsidized monthly food allotments for everyone on the island. Food delivery providers, such as Mandao, have been playing an important role to ensure food access while staying at home. A cooperative in the province of Las Tunas has developed an app to facilitate deliveries of their produce.

During such times of uncertainty, the Cuban government is implementing measures to guarantee the nation's food supply. This has included substantial investments in rice production, as well as efforts to increase storage capacity in several provinces. Even as the Cuban agricultural sector struggles to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, donations from Cuban campesinos continue to be sent to many of the 194 isolation facilities that have been set up as well as vulnerable citizens across the island.


Aplicación móvil garantiza envío de productos agrícolas en #LasTunas
"Mobile application guarantees delivery of agricultural products in #LasTunas"
*Article posted in Spanish
Tunera Vision, March 31st, 2020

The Mercasa market in the province of Las Tunas is the point of sale for fresh vegetables and fruits produced by the CPA cooperative Calixto Sarduy. For the past month, the cooperative has begun using a mobile application in order to deliver products to its customers. Called Mercazona, the app was developed by a team of seven local youth who worked on the project as part of a push for local technological initiatives. In addition to bringing the cooperative's goods to its customers in Las Tunas, the application is also in step with social distancing measures currently being implemented as a way to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. 

Rodolfo, el cañero mayor de Aguada de Pasajeros
"Rodolfo, the senior sugar cane worker of Aguada de Pasajeros"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Armando Sáez Chávez, 5 de Septiembre, March 31st, 2020
Reaching yields of 90 tons per hectare is normal for Rodolfo Almeida Rodríguez, the experienced sugarcane producer from the Cienfuegos municipality of Aguada de Pasajeros. Such yields are impressive not only in Cuba, but also compared to the global average. While his focus is on sugarcane, Rodolfo also produces other crops, including vegetables, grains, as well as livestock and fruit on his farm Casimba. “Like the rest of the producers, we are not unaware of the difficult economic situation in the country and its impact," says Rodolfo, "and despite this, we do not lose sight of the fact that the number one duty of the Cuban peasantry is to produce food for the people." About 3,000 tons of sugarcane are slated to leave his farm this week, headed to the Antonio Sánchez mill for processing. 

Científico cubano sueña una comunidad agraria sustentable
"Cuban scientist dreams of a sustainable agrarian community"
*Article posted in Spanish
Inter Press Service in Cuba, April 1st, 2020
Eight years ago, the agricultural pioneer Fernando Funes began work on his farm, Finca Marta. Located in the municipality of Caimito in Artemisa province, Finca Marta currently produces food on eight hectares using agroecological farming practices and supports the lives and livelihoods of 15 people. Now, Funes aspires to extend his experience even further to create a sustainable agrarian community, including not only Finca Marta but many agroecological farms across the municipality. This is not, however, the only project Funes has in mind. In addition to his work on the farm, he is also an adviser with NGO's such as Cubasolar and the Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez and has works with a number of specialists on issues related to sustainable communities and landscape architecture in Cuba.

Sector agropecuario en Cuba, un desafío permanente
"Agricultural sector in Cuba, a permanent challenge"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Betsy Anaya Cruz, Inter Press Service in Cuba, April 1st, 2020
After the crisis of the 1990s, Cuban agriculture transitioned away from an industrial model and towards a more sustainable agricultural model. Since this shift, more than 40 agricultural research centers have been built and progress has been made in improving production across the island. Despite this progress, however, dependence on imports continues to remain high in Cuba. With the coronavirus pandemic, the country has arrived at a crossroads in terms of ensuring its domestic food supply. In order to do so in a context where food imports are not longer a viable option, the Cuban agricultural sector needs to do a number of things, including: reduce bureaucracy, permit the formation of secondary cooperatives, improve connections between food system actors, remove obstacles to production and above all, give autonomy to food producers.

Consolidan en Las Tunas experiencias para la conservación de semillas
"Consolidation of seed conservation experiences in Las Tunas"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Yoe Hernández González, Tunera Vision, April 3rd, 2020
In Las Tunas, farmers from the CCS cooperative Justo Bruzon are sharing their experiences in saving and storing local seeds as a way to improve food production in the province. The cooperative has installed the first seed bank in their municipality, which they fill with locally-produced seed. When needed, this seed is available to farmers in the area. According to Georgina Martinez Turruelles, president of the cooperative, the conservation of local seed varieties is very important to meet local demand and represents an economic benefit to both the cooperative and the farmers. Currently, 90% of local seed demand is being met by the cooperative. 

In Communist-run Cuba, the private sector helps the needy as coronavirus spreads
By: Sarah Marsh & Rodrigo Gutierrez, Reuters, April 3rd, 2020
In Communist-run Cuba, the private sector has flourished in the past decades, but in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, many small businesses are now rushing to set up initiatives to support those most vulnerable to the disease. In some cases the private sector and the government are even joining forces to combat the disease. Cuban private businesses understand the need to demonstrate solidarity with the public sector during these trying times, perhaps more than private businesses elsewhere. There is not only a higher cultural value placed on such communal solidarity in Cuba, but such actions also represent "good politics" for the fledgling sector which has seen a crackdown in recent years. 

Comenzará a aplicarse a la población medicamento homeopático preventivo
"Preventative homeopathic medicine will begin to be applied to the population"
*Article posted in Spanish

CubaSí, April 5th, 2020
Prenvengho-Vir, a preventive homeopathic medicine, will begin to be applied as a prophylactic measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, reported Francisco Durán, national director of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the Ministry of Public Health in Cuba. At a press conference, the doctor explained that this product helps prevent different conditions such as influenza, dengue, and emerging viral infections, such as the novel coronavirus. Interferon Alpha 2B, another drug developed in Cuba, is already being used to treat coronavirus patients in Cuba. 

Santiago de Cuba prioriza agricultura urbana en medio de pandemia
"Santiago de Cuba prioritizes urban agriculture amid pandemic"
*Article posted in Spanish
Prensa Latina, April 6th, 2020
The Provincial Defense Council (CPD) in Cuba has announced several actions intended to bolster the country's response to the COVID-19 outbreak. A priority among these actions is the construction of new organoponicos, or urban agricultural plots, in Cuba. This decision was made in order to guarantee food production in the midst of the coronavirus crises, but is also part of a broader commitment to the development of urban agriculture on the island. Also among the CPD's proposed measures is the delivery of food to the homes of needy citizens, the payment of pensions, and strict regulations of public transport.

Marzo de 2020: El más seco en Cuba desde 1961
"March 2020: Driest in Cuba since 1961"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Danier Ernesto González, Cuba Debate, April 7th, 2020
The Climate Center of the Cuban Meteorological Institute has reported that rainfall accumulations last month were well below the average across the island. Insufficient precipitation was reported in the west, center and east of the archipelago, contributing to drought conditions. According to rainfall data, 90% of the Cuban territory, comprising of 135 municipalities, recorded rainfall deficits in March. Additionally, the country's average temperature in March was 24.6 degrees Celsius, a full 1.0 ° C above average.

Del surco a la mesa: quitar trabas y trabadores de la producción de alimentos en Cuba
"From the field row to the table: removing obstacles and obstacle makers to food production in Cuba"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Dr. C Juan Triana Cordoví, OnCuba, April 8th, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has emphasized something that most Cubans have long suspected: there is a strategic importance in having a food production system that is as robust and self-sufficient as possible. Despite this understanding, and despite great efforts over the past decades, the output of the Cuban food system still falls short of expectations considering the amount of resources invested in it. In order to confront the immediate challenges of the coronavirus, and in an effort to reform Cuban agriculture in the long-term, it is vital to rethink certain aspects of Cuba's current food system. It may be necessary to consider removing obstacles and restrictions that currently exist in the agricultural sector and to revisit current policies to determine which work and which do not. 

Mejor surtidas placitas de Ciego de Ávila
"Best assorted little plates of Ciego de Ávila"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Pastor Batista Valdés, Invasor, April 9th, 2020
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Cuba's cooperative and peasant sector are attempting to harvest as much food as possible while also speeding up short-cycle crop plantings that will allow for some stability in the food supply over the coming months. Contributing to these efforts is the displacement of food initially destined for the tourist sector which, with the decrease in tourism due to the global coronavirus pandemic, is now being redirected to the Cuban populace. Unfortunately, rice, beans and other grains are still not abundant on the island, having suffered from pests, a severe drought, and underproduction in recent years. Other staple foods, such as potatoes, however, are far more accessible with much of them being designated for Cuba's various social consumption programs.

Cuba preserva sus áreas protegidas
"Cuba preserves its protected areas"
*Article posted in Spanish
Granma, April 15th, 2020

There are currently 211 identified protected areas in Cuba, including both terrestrial and marine sites that together, represent almost 20% of Cuba's total national territory. The National System of Protected Areas (SNAP), which dates from 1976, is coordinated by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment along with the participation of the Ministries of Agriculture, the Interior and the Revolutionary Armed Forces, as well as the Food Industry, the Planning Institute of Physics and provincial representatives. These protected areas include: two Natural World Heritage Sites, the Desembarco del Granma and Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, as well as six Ramsar sites, which specifically target wetland areas in need of preservation.

Cuba Prioritizes Food Production During COVID-19 Outbreak
teleSUR, April 16th, 2020
Cuban farmers are contributing to national food production in order to alleviate the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the island. At the same time, they are also implementing strategies, in particular agroecological farming practices, which will help guarantee food production in the long term. According to Rafael Santiesteban Pozo, president of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), efforts by the Cuban farming sector to implement organic methods, animal traction and soil conservation techniques will not only help Cuba confront the challenges of coronavirus, but will also help confront other strategic challenges such as the US-imposed embargo and the impacts of climate change. 

Cuba recibe 5 mil toneladas de arroz como regalo de Vietnam por el coronavirus
"Cuba receives 5,000 tons of rice as a gift from Vietnam for the coronavirus"
*Article posted in Spanish
Cuba Newspaper, April 17th, 2020
The Cuban government received a donation of 5,000 tons of rice from Vietnam aimed at alleviating the food crisis that the island is currently experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Vietnamese officials also indicated their intention to support Cuba with medical equipment that can be used to prevent and fight the disease. According to officials, these gifts are a gesture of solidarity between the two countries. Vietnam is Cuba's second largest trading partner in Asia, behind only China. Vietnamese entrepreneurs have also been some of the first to establish companies in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM). 

Solidarios por cuenta propia
"Solidarity on their own"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: José Alejandro Rodríguez, Juventud Rebelde, April 18th, 2020
Like small businesses everywhere, small businesses in Cuba, including many restaurants, have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. In order to confront the economic difficulties that the virus has brought on, business directors like Juan Carlos Blain of Juanky's Pan, which sells hamburgers, pizzas and other sandwiches, have had to cut staff and close dining areas, relying only on take out orders. While some restaurants have closed completely, some business owners like Blain have begun to turn to Mandao, a messaging application startup led by the Cuban entrepreneur Marta Deus. The app has already begun to be used as a courier service for restaurants like Juanky's Pan and the creators of Mandao also have plans to begin home delivery of food harvested by agricultural producers. The new app, which many believe will be useful in Cuba even after the pandemic is over, represents some of the great potential in the Cuban private sector. Still, Deus supports a strong link between the public and private sector in Cuba, which together, she believes will have great economic and social impacts in the country.

Cuba hacia una nueva agricultura
"Cuba towards a new agriculture"
*Article posted in Spanish
FRANCE 24 Español, April 18th, 2020
Thirty years ago, the father of Isis Salcines founded an organoponico in the city of Alamar on the eastern side of Havana. The model for the Cuban organoponico, or urban agricultural plot, was originally developed during the economic crisis of the 1990s as part of Cuba's efforts to increase food production using organic methods. Today, Salcines runs the farm her father founded and is finding the organoponico model to be as relevant as ever in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Organoponicos are just one of the elements of the Cuban food system that have made the island nation a global leader in sustainable urban agriculture. 

Cuba abrirá tiendas online en CUP para la venta de alimentos, aseo y productos de primera necesidad
"Cuba will open online stores in CUP for the sale of food, hygiene and basic necessities"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: María Sosa, Directorio Cubano, April 20th, 2020
According to officials, Cuban citizens will soon have the option of shopping at seven online stores in order to purchase food, toiletries and other basic necessities using CUP (Cuban pesos). Given the challenges of the current COVID-19 outbreak, the island's government has been forced to develop electronic commerce at an accelerated pace in order to meet demand and support social distancing efforts. The Caribbean Store Chain, which is currently one of the main marketing companies in Cuba, has decided to expand its network of virtual stores to include seven new establishments located in the provinces of Havana, Artemisa, Mayabeque, Villa Clara, Camagüey, Holguín and Pinar del Río. Likewise, it was recently announced that the home delivery service run by the Correos de Cuba Business Group will begin delivering purchases made through these virtual stores directly to Cuban households.

Marta Deus: 'Es momento de trabajar duro y reinventarse'"
"Marta Deus: 'It is time to work hard and reinvent yourself'"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Yoel Rodriguez Tejeda, OnCuba, April 21st, 2020

Home delivery services have proven necessary in Cuba to aid in the social distancing efforts and curb further spread of the disease, which has already infected more than a thousand people on the island. Although several state and some private businesses have begun to provide food delivery, a young Cuban entrepreneur named Marta Deus has developed her own third-party delivery service. The company, an app-based initiative called Mandao, began several years ago and initially operated as a courier service in Havana. In recent years, however, the business has struggled to stay afloat. Since the onset of the social distancing efforts in Cuba, this has changed and Mandao's business has been booming. During this time of crisis, Mandao is being increasingly called upon as a viable alternative for many in the capital city, demonstrating the potential of the Cuban private sector.

Eugenio y su siembra garbanzos
"Eugenio and his sowing chickpeas"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Yenima Díaz Velázquez, Tiempo21, April 21st, 2020
Eugenio Pérez Almague is a peasant farmer from the municipality of Jesús Menéndez in the province of Las Tunas. He has an excellent track record in the production of fruit trees but recently, the farmer has set his sights on another crop: chickpeas. While there is an increasing demand in Cuba for foods with high nutritional value such as chickpeas, the crop has only been planted on 71 hectares in all of Las Tunas. With his latest harvest of nearly 20 hectares, Almague hopes to supply the state company with the necessary seed to boost production of chickpeas in the province. With this in mind, Almague carefully selected two chickpea varieties to propagate--JP-94 and white Sinaloa--and applied agroecological techniques in their production in order to yield the best possible seeds.

Trasplante mecanizado de arroz por primera vez en Pinar del Río
"Mechanized transplanting of rice for the first time in Pinar del Río"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Daymí Díaz Breijo, telePinar, April 21st, 2020

The Los Palacios Agro-industrial Grain Company based out of Pinar del Rio province has been the first in the country to use mechanized transplant technology in the production of rice. The development is the result of the joint work of the Viet Nam-Cuba cooperation project, which includes researchers from the Los Palacios Base Scientific-Technological Unit, and aims to provide quality seed to both the peasant and state agricultural sector. 

Mejoras en el priorizado programa del arroz
"Improvements in the prioritized rice program"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Katiuska León Borrero, TV Granma, April 22nd, 2020

The substitution of imports is currently of prime importance in Cuba as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global trade, including Cuban food imports. Because of this, the Cuban agricultural sector has prioritized significant investment and development in the production of rice on the island, much of which is imported. Recipients of this new investment include the agro-industrial grain company Fernando Echenique from Granma province. The company will receive 11 new grain silos that will increase storage capacity from 20,720 tons of rice to 31,700 tons while also improving the quality of the stored grain through improved ventilation technology. Additional investment will allow the company to build a more modern drying facility in the municipality of Bartolomé Masó.

Cuba's ration book stages comeback due to coronavirus pandemic
By: Nelson Acosta & Sarah Marsh, Reuters, April 23rd, 2020
Cuba’s decades-old rationing system, once slated for elimination, is staging a comeback during the coronavirus pandemic. . Hours-long lines outside Cuban supermarkets due to widespread shortages of basic goods risks undermining the country’s response to the virus.To combat this problem, authorities this month added more products to Cubans’ monthly ration book — known locally as the “libreta” — and started experimenting with online commerce and delivery options. Cuba introduced the “libreta” shortly after the late Fidel Castro’s 1959 leftist revolution, to ensure the availability of subsidized staples like rice, beans, sugar and coffee for everyone in the face of U.S. sanctions. 

El campo es la tabla de salvación
"The field is the lifeline"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Marianela Martín González, Luis Raúl Vázquez Muñoz & Osviel Castro Medel, Juventude Rebelde, April 25th, 2020
Part of the Cuban government's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been the promotion of more localized food production. On a national level, there has been a push for more self-sufficiency in the agricultural sector overall, with a focus on import substitution and short-cycle crops. There has also been a push for food self-sufficiency at the municipal level. This has meant the government's green-lighting of many local initiatives that support local consumption. In the context of the pandemic, there has also been a lot of focus placed on Cuba's largest agricultural producing regions, such as Granma province, where rice production has been prioritized. Farmers from across Cuba's agricultural sector have also provided substantial donations of food to many of the isolation facilities that have been set up around the country for COVID-19 patients. Some of these food donations have also been directed to vulnerable people across Cuba's provinces. 

Producción de alimentos, tarea de todos los días
"Food production, an everyday task"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Yaima Puig Meneses, CubaDebate, April 26th, 2020

In recent remarks to the Cuban people, President Miguel Díaz-Canel emphasized the important role of promoting agriculture amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The president also stressed the need to move past the "import mind set" and towards a self-sufficient domestic agricultural system. Even during these trying times, he reiterated, the country must not lose sight of advancing forward without a continuing commitment to social equity. In terms of agriculture, Díaz-Canel discussed the need to resize work in the country's agribusiness while also improving marketing and storage capacity in the agricultural sector overall. During the same meeting, the the Minister of Agriculture, Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, commented on recent efforts to support Cuban food sovereignty through the crisis, in particular recent investments by MINAG in the nation's production of rice.

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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