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

February News and Events

Dear Friends,
Please find below a summary of the news for February as well as information on two upcoming events - the ACTAF Agroecology Encounter in May and the Inter-American Climate Change Congress in June. News highlights include: a new study on river health and sustainable agriculture from a joint Cuban-US research team, the rescue of cinnamon plants in the Botanical Garden of Cienfuegos, the construction of a desalinization plant in Punta de Maisí, the beginning of the Building Coastal Resilience project in Cuba with the support of the EU, the work of ReglaSOUL to bring plant-based holistic wellness resources to Afro-Cubans, and a report on Black farmers in Cuba from brandon king, who was part of the CUSAN-organized US-delegation to Cuba during this year's ANAP conference in November.


In Cuba, Cleaner Rivers Follow Greener Farming
By: Joshua E. Brown, UVM Today, January 30th, 2020
When the Soviet Union disintegrated in the early 1990's, food production on the island of Cuba was reduced. Under the stress of an imminent food crisis, the island quickly rebuilt a new form of diversified farming that depended less on imported synthetic chemicals. Over the last two decades, Cuba blossomed into a worldwide model for conservation agriculture, with improved soils and cleaner water. Recently, a team of Cuban and U.S. field scientists have worked together to rigorously test the impacts of contemporary Cuban agriculture on water quality in the island's rivers. They discovered that, of the rivers they explored in Cuba, most had 1/4 to 1/3 of the nutrient loads seen in US rivers, such as the Mississippi. This collaborative research helps to understand how land and rivers interact in the context of sustainable organic agriculture and may provide a good example to other people in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
*See also:
UVM study of Cuban farming methods gives insights on Vt. water quality woes
By: Cat Viglienzoni, WCAX 3, January 30th, 2020

Finca agroecológica de Pinar del Río nominada a Premios Excelencia
"Pinar del Río agroecological farm nominated for Excellence Awards"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Fatima Rivera Amador, TelePinar, January 31st, 2020
Orestes González is a famous Cuban baseball player nicknamed the Moncada firefighter for his 101 games saved during his life as a pitcher. Now retired, he runs an agroecological farm called Coco Solo in Pinar del Rio province. The farm, which he works and operates with his family, is one of this year's nominees for the 2019 Excellence Awards. Situated among the mogotes (domes hills) of the famous Viñales Valley, Coco Solo grows varieties of vegetables, grains and also tobacco using soil management practices and agroecological techniques.

El crucigrama de los alimentos
"The food crossword"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Delia Reyes Garcia & Igor Guilarte Fong, Bohemia, January 31st, 2020

The objective of the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture's municipal self-supply program is to reach the entire Cuban population with agricultural products with the goal of providing 30 pounds per capita per month of food, vegetables, grains and fruits. This is in addition to what Cuban family's already receive in their normal monthly food basket. Using data from the latest census, the municipal self-supply program aims to ensure the distributed foods be regionally specific, responding to local customs and preferences, to the extent that the agricultural production allows. Currently, however, the program faces a number of challenges including: lack of inputs, problems in contracting farmers, planning and marketing, gaps in the production chain, customer dissatisfaction and incomplete statistics.

Adoptan Estrategias En Las Tunas Para Evitar La Erosión De Playas Arenosas
"Adopting Strategies to Prevent Erosion of Sandy Beaches in Las Tunas"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Gianny López Brito, TunasVision, February 3rd, 2020

Recently, a series of strategic measures have been taken in Las Tunas province to prevent the erosion of sandy beaches. These efforts are part of the Cuban government's broader strategy to face the consequences of climate change called Tarea Vida (Life Task). See the video contained in this article for more details.

Cuba’s rivers run clean after decades of sustainable farming
Nature, February 4th, 2020
Despite centuries of colonization and agriculture, Cuba’s rivers are in good health. Sugarcane and cattle farming on the island date back to the late fifteenth century. To measure water quality in Cuba’s rivers today, Paul Bierman at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Rita Hernández at the Cienfuegos Center for Environmental Studies in Cuba and their colleagues sampled water in 25 river basins in central Cuba. This is the first time in more than 60 years that scientists from Cuba and the United States have joined forces to study the island’s hydrology. More than 80% of the samples had levels of Escherichia coli bacteria that exceeded international standards for recreational use. The bacteria are indicators of fecal contamination, and probably came from the cattle that graze on many riverbanks. Despite the island’s history of large-scale agriculture, the rivers studied had much lower levels of dissolved nitrogen — an indicator of fertilizer use — than did the Mississippi River Basin in the United States. The researchers speculate that this is due to Cuba’s transition to smaller-scale, more sustainable farming practices since the 1990's.

Shirkey and other Michigan lawmakers fly to Cuba, a potentially lucrative market for Michigan
By: Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press, February 4th, 2020
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey joined Michigan Agriculture Department Director Gary McDowell and several other state lawmakers on a trade mission to Cuba on Monday as part of an effort organized by the Michigan Agri-Business Association. Cuba, which imports more than $2 billion worth of agricultural goods annually, is considered a potentially lucrative market for Michigan growers, however, the state does not currently sell any agricultural products to the island nation. While in Cuba, the delegation is expected to meet with several government ministries, including those responsible for agriculture and trade. Meetings are also planned with cooperatives and individual farmers.

Pinar del Río con la mira en las exportaciones
"Pinar del Río with an eye on exports"
*Article posted in Spanish
TelePinar, February 5th, 2020
More than 50 assorted goods have been prepared for export from Pinar del Rio province in response to the recent call from the Cuban government to increase export revenues from the territory and improve its presence on the global market. While some additional products are not currently ready for export, many others will be ready for international markets soon, including Arecha rum, a brand from Pinar del Rio. Among the current round of exports are 14 tons of guava cream from the iconic canning factory La Conchita which has a strong reputation on the global market. 

Soybean factory in Cuba to improve export to Mexico
Prensa Latina, February 9th, 2020
The workers and managers of the Soybean Processing Plant, the only one of its kind in Cuba, are in the process of increasing product quality and  packaging for export to Mexico. Special attention will be paid to the improvement of soy lecithin, which is exported to Mexico, as well as the maintenance of facilities that allow higher industrial yields in the processing of soybeans. Inaugurated in 2001, the plant is one of the most important factories in Santiago de Cuba.

Cuban fishermen will need authorization as of May
OnCuba, February 9th, 2020
The new Law on Fisheries, which will come into force within 180 days, establishes that people who want to carry out this activity in rivers, reservoirs or in maritime waters must be officially authorized, except those who fish from shorelines and without using “floating means.” Fishing remains one of the most depressed economic activities in Cuba. The obsolescence of vessels and the economic crisis have caused a permanent drop in the volume of catches and fish imports, to such an extent that the per capita consumption of that food on the island became one of the lowest in the continent.

Destacado que hacer investigativo de meteorólogos en Las Tunas
"Outstanding research work of meteorologists in Las Tunas"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Esnilda Romero Maña, Tiempo 21, February 9th, 2020
The Provincial Meteorological Center of Las Tunas is currently developing six projects with the aim of being designated as an official meteorological research center. These projects include the study of emissions from large industries as well as their impact on air pollution in populated areas throughout the province. Other work looks at the use of agro-meteorological information as a means of reducing the effects of climate variability in small-scale agriculture. Models and projections from the Meteorological Center were also essential in developing the Herradura 1 and Herradura 2 wind farms in the province of Las Tunas, which to date represent Cuba's largest single investment in a renewable energy program.

Agricultura avileña oferta alimentos agroecológicos a la población
"Avilanian agriculture offers agroecological food to the population"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Lubia Ulloa Trujillo, Agencia Cubana de Noticias, February 10th, 2020
The Sustainable Agriculture Support Project (PAAS) continues to improve in Ciego de Ávila province, as in the rest of Cuba. The objective of the project is to maximize the production of food using agroecological management and to direct this food toward local consumption. Additionally, the technological support from PAAS aims to help producers reduce crop losses, obtain higher profits, increase the average salary of workers and create sources of employment in their local community. In Cuba, the program is carried out by the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF) with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Dutch non-governmental organization Hivos.

Logran plantas de canela en Jardín Botánico de Cienfuegos
"Cinnamon plants in the Botanical Garden of Cienfuegos"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Dagmara Barbieri López, 5 de Septiembre, February 11th, 2020
The rescue of exotic species has long been a focus of the Botanical Garden of Cienfuegos. Recently, agronomist Amarilis González Jiménez, an expert in flora conservation, carried out a project to produce cinnamon plants, a very expensive import product for the country. After experimenting with different soils and developing seedlings, the plants were distributed to various institutions and individual producers to be properly acclimatized. In the future, the garden hopes to improve cultivation with a view to its commercialize cinnamon production within the country. 

Cuba's efforts for food safety highlighted in Rome
Prensa Latina, February 11th, 2020

Cuba's efforts to maintain food safety and to implement Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) amidst considerable adversities, was recently highlighted by the Cuban ambassador, Jose Carlos Rodriguez, at the 43rd session of the Administration Council of the United Nations in Rome. The meeting focused on exploring solutions to eradicate famine in the world by 2030. Food safety is a key factor for Cuba's national security. In addition, Cuba is actively working to achieve its SDG's, which aligns well with Cuba's National Economic and Social Development Plan.

Campesinos reafirman compromiso con alimentos para el pueblo
"Peasants reaffirm commitment to food for the people"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Armando Sáez Chavez, 5 de Septiembre, February 12th, 2020
Despite the limitations of resources and fuel imposed by the escalation of the US blockade against Cuba, campesinos at the XII Congress of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) made several proposals for alternative strategies to guarantee the production of food on the island. These proposals included the need to increase both the use of animal traction and the implementation of agroecology. Additionally, the importance of science and technology was highlighted given the potential of these resources in the production of healthy food and in achieving higher agricultural yields. On top of these proposals, campesinos also expressed dissatisfaction about the problems of non-payments, especially to dairy farmers.Other concerns raised included the lack of inputs, such as fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, as well as rubber boots, tools, work tools and other resources.

Maisí: Water returns to La Punta

By: José Llamos Camejo, Granma, February 13th, 2020
The construction of a desalination plant near the town of Punta de Maisí at the far Western point of the Cuban island has made life much easier for residents of this arid region. Using pumps, the plant draws seawater from wells 40 meters deep that have been drilled on the coastline. This seawater is the processed through reverse osmosis, a highly reliable technology with low energy consumption, after which time it is ready for human consumption. To date, the plant has helped to restore the local water supply and has made possible plans for improving irrigation with the aim of alleviating  water scarcity for farmers in the region. This in addition to an aqueduct being built from the nearby Maya river, located at a distance of 20 kilometers, will support the reanimation of food self-sufficiency in Punta de Maisí area.

Autoabastecimiento alimentario: un asunto de seguridad nacional
"Food self-sufficiency: a matter of national security"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Manuel Marrero Cruz, Granma, February 16th, 2020
Since its inception, the goal of the Urban, Suburban and Family Agriculture Program has remained the same: to develop a food production system based on local potential, using appropriate technologies and drawing from locally-available inputs. It does this in a number of ways. First, it can operate with a minimum use of automotive fuel because transportation costs are reduced through food system localization. Second, it does not demand the import of pesticides or fertilizers because, as part of the program, each hectare of productive land makes use of locally-available inputs and other necessary organic inputs. Additionally, it guarantees employment to thousands of workers (including women and youth), it contributes to improved water management and nutrient recycling and it allows the use unproductive, idle or underutilized spaces for food production. All of these characteristics make the program a realistic and sustainable alternative for achieving food and nutritional sovereignty in Cuba.
*See also:
Agricultura con un enfoque local y sostenible
"Agriculture with a local and sustainable approach"
*Article posted in Spanish

Granma, February 17th, 2020

Promueven turismo de naturaleza en Ciénaga de Zapata
"Promoting nature tourism in Ciénaga de Zapata"
*Article posted in Spanish
Radio Rebelde, February 17th, 2020
Ecoturism is being promoted in the Ciénaga de Zapata (Zapata swamp) in Matanzas province, which represents Cuba's largest intact wetland habitat.
The Zapata Peninsula, where the wetland is located, can be traveled by boat for about 14 kilometers along the Hatiguanico River and is home to incredible biodiversity including a number of endemic birds species such as the Zapata sparrow, the Cuban emerald hummingbird, as well as cranes, flamingos and herons. The wetland region consists of hiking trails through a landscape of karst lagoons, flooded caves and cenotes.

¿Cómo será la distribución de papa en Cuba?
"What will the distribution of potatoes be like in Cuba?"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Marianela Martín González, Juventud Rebelde, February 17th, 2020

According to Ramón Rosa Martín, first vice president of the Acopio Business Group, potato distribution in Cuba will begin as the current harvest cycle advances with the aim of reaching the whole country, including the special municipality Isla de la Juventud. This will allow three pounds of potatoes to be distributed per capita in Artemisa, Mayabeque, Matanzas and Ciego de Ávila provinces during February and two and a half pounds per capita in Villa Clara. In the capital, shipments from Artemis and Mayabeque will allow for the distribution of seven pounds per consumer during February. In addition, social consumption centers are being prioritized for distribution, as well as the fresh products for tourist areas, which will be guaranteed through February, March and April.

Más de 10 proyectos ejecutados en Cuba para el cuidado medioambiental 
"More than 10 projects executed in Cuba for environmental care"
*Article posted in Spanish
Prensa Latina, February 18th, 2020
A group of 11 projects dedicated to the sustainable management and vulnerability reduction of land and water resources are currently being carried out by the Cuban Environment Agency (AMA). Among these projects is the Environmental Bases for Local Food Sustainability (Basal) project, which aims to support adaptation to climate change and reduce vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector at local and national levels. Another project, Manglar Vivo, endeavors to recover more than seven thousand hectares of mangroves and inland swamp forest areas through ecosystem restoration, including the replanting of natural vegetation. Founded on March 6, 1995, the AMA, which is attached to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, currently operates 22 research centers scattered throughout the country.

Cuba's Agro-Ecology Movement and What We Can Learn From It
By: Elispeth Hay, WCAI, February 18th, 2020
After the Cold War Cuba was forced to grapple with a series of agricultural crises when their industrial system suddenly lost access to chemical fertilizers, fossil fuels, and pesticides. This decade is called the Special Period in Cuba. During this time, the country lost roughly 80 percent of both imports and exports. During the first several years there were widespread food shortages. But little by little people started experimenting, and in 1993, a small group of Australians came to help teach permaculture, a kind of sustainable agriculture that uses a lot less energy. The Cuban government ended up mandating organic practices. Whether or not the Cuban agricultural experiment is considered a complete success is still up for debate.The overall takeaways indicate that it’s a challenge in Cuba to produce enough meat, milk, and grains, but that fruit and vegetable production has been very successful.

Cuba increases export of tobacco products in 2019 by almost 10 million dollars
OnCuba, February 21st, 2020
The Tobacco Business Group of Cuba (Tabacuba) billed more than 269.8 million dollars for the export of its productions in 2019, almost 10 million more than the previous year. The tobacco industry is one of the sectors that contributes the most income to the Cuban gross domestic product. This year, Tabacuba intends to raise its revenues to more than 280. 8 million dollars with the export of quality cigars, to maintain the leadership of its products internationally. Tabacuba is the entity in charge of directing Cuban tobacco activity in all phases, from agricultural production, industrial production, marketing, logistics and development.

Exportará Cuba aceite de coco por primera vez
"Cuba will export coconut oil for the first time"
*Article posted in Spanish
Xinhua, February 21st, 2020
For the first time, Cuba will export coconut oil from a new factory with state-of-the-art extraction technology that runs out of the city of Baracoa, on the eastern tip of the island. The plant is scheduled to start operations next March. According to calculations, the facility will have an annual demand of more than 25,000 tons of coconut as raw material. To achieve this, an agricultural recovery program for coconut has been developed over the past three years, which has added more than 60 companies to the industry nationwide. The plan is to reach 18,000 hectares planted with coconut by 2025 and achieve an average yield of six to seven tons per hectares. In 1990, coconut cultivation in Baracoa, which is its main production area, delivered 27,000 tons.Coconut oil is an important product for the cosmetic industry.

Meet The Couple Providing Accessible Wellness Resources for Afro-Cubans
By: Janel Martinez, Remezcla, February 22nd, 2020
Amberly Alene Ellis and her husband Alexey Rodriguez, are activists and hip-hop pioneers from Regla, Cuba. Through their project ReglaSOUL, which is a plant-based holistic wellness resource for Afro-descendants in Cuba, the couple is ensuring that Black Cubans understand the connection between food, history, and liberation. ReglaSOUL was launched in February 2018 and has offered two recurring events each month since—Hip-Hop for Wellness and an Afro-Vegan Cooking Workshop. “I started ReglaSOUL with Amberly because it was another way of connecting, spiritually and artistically,” says Rodriguez of rap duo Obsesión. “I needed to diversify the ways to [improve] the situation of Black people in a more natural way because I have a strong sense of belonging to Regla, the place where we live and where I was born." Regla, which is only a short ferry ride from Old Havana, is rich in culture and spirituality—a perhaps unsurprising fact given the prominence of the Yorùbá faith on the Caribbean island.

Será en La Habana Taller sobre resiliencia costera
"Workshop on coastal resillience will be held in Havana"
*Article posted in Spanish
Agencia Cubana de Noticias, February 22nd, 2020
The Building Coastal Resilience project workshop will be held on February 24 in the Cuban capital of Havana. Directed by the Environment Agency (AMA) of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), the project aims to propose natural solutions for adaptation to climate change in coastal areas. This initiative has the cooperation of other organizations such as the General Staff of Civil Defense, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Institutes of Hydraulic Resources and Physical Planning as well as The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and European Union. This project is also part of the Cuban State plan known as Tarea Vida (Life Task) for the confrontation of climate change as well as Cuba's commitments to the various sustainable development directives as laid out by the UN. 
*See also:
Comienza Resiliencia costera, nuevo proyecto de cooperación de la Unión Europea en Cuba
"Coastal Resilience begins, new European Union cooperation project in Cuba"
*Article posted in Spanish
Official Website of the European Union, February 25th 2020

'Tarea Vida': Legislando las Energías Renovables
“'Life Task': Legislating Renewable Energies"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Alberto Sauri Oliva, February 24th 2020
The change of the energy matrix according to a “Sustainable Energy Transition” is inextricably linked to care for the environment, biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development goals. The role of the State is fundamental in the development of renewable energy sources. This is especially true in Cuba, where the state-led initiative Tarea Vida (Life Task) aims to build sustainability and resilience on the island to confront the impacts of climate change. This article features an broad overview of the specific legal framework that substantiates the Tarea Vida project with particular attention to how this legislation impacts the renewable energy sector on the island.

Black Farmers in Cuba
By: Rae Gomes, WhyHunger, February 25th 2020
Last November, a delegation comprised of U.S. based grassroots organization attended an conference organized by the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), a member of the global social movement La Via Campesina, in the Havana Province in Cuba. The convening organization of the US delegation was the Cuba U.S. Agroecology Network. In 2019, the biennial conference included Black farmers who have been implementing Agroecology practices, and other climate conscious and ancestral practices in farming. One of those farmers is brandon king, a culture worker, cooperative developer, and current board member of Cooperative Jackson in Jackson Mississippi. This article features an interview with brandon in which he shares some of his thoughts and reflections on the conference with WhyHunger.


Cuba 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. 

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.

4th 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.


¡Cuba! River Water Chemistry Reveals Rapid Chemical Weathering, the Echo of Uplift, and the Promise of More Sustainable Agriculture
By: Paul Bierman et al., GSA TODAY, January 2020

For the first time in more than half a century, a joint Cuban/American science team has worked together to quantify the impacts of chemical weathering and sustainable agriculture on river water quality in Cuba. Despite centuries of agriculture, the impact on these rivers’ biogeochemistry is limited. Although river water in many central Cuban rivers has high levels of E. coli bacteria, likely sourced from livestock, concentrations of dissolved nitrogen are far lower than other areas where intensive agriculture is practiced, such as the Mississippi River Basin. This suggests the benefits of Cuba’s shift to conservation agriculture after 1990 and provides a model for more sustainable agriculture worldwide.

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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