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

May News Summary

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The amount of attention that food and agriculture are garnering in the news in Cuba has spiked this month. We see this in provincial and national radio and online media outlets as well as the nightly news. This is no surprise, as in much of the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a serious economic crisis resulting in rising food insecurity and the need to make agrifood system reforms.
Three key priorities for the Cuban government to address issues with food access and availability, while not new, take on renewed urgency: 1. calls to increase food production – with stories this month on the planting of short cycle crops, the boosting of production in urban agriculture, and a decrease in loan rates from Bandec, 2. calls to substitute food imports – with stories on the often elusive and pricey sources of protein such as eggs and poultry and an interesting analysis from economist Dr. Juan Triana on pork, and 3. a call to increase foreign investments.
There are stories of innovation like state and non-state actors pivoting to do home deliveries of food, of a cooperative in Cienfuegos initiating a new mode of distribution, and of the inauguration of the first processing plant to make cassava flour as a substitute for imported wheat flour.
There are stories of critical analysis from Dr. Armando Nova, agricultural economist, who calls for deep reforms to decentralize the the food system, and from Dr. Fernando Funes Monzote who calls for the legalization of the slaughter and marketing of cattle in the non-state sector to boost production and accessibility and stem illegal activity.
And there are stories that inspire, like those of Cuban campesinos donating food to hospitals, of celebrations, with social distancing, of Cuba’s Day of the Campesino, May 17th, which honors the assassination of the campesino Niceto Perez in 1946, the signing of the first agrarian reform law in 1959, and the founding of ANAP, the National Association of Small Farmers, in 1961. And a short video highlighting the growing movement of young farmer agroecologists on the island.

Alianza de cooperativas mejora la respuesta del agro cubano
"Alliance of cooperatives improves the response of Cuban agriculture"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Ivet González, Inter Press Service in Cuba, May 1st, 2020
Since 2015, the Apocoop project, which stands for Support for Agricultural Inter-cooperation by its Spanish acronym, has promoted the management of 47 cooperatives in alliance with other entities in four Cuban municipalities including Alquízar, El Salvador, Manatí and Banao. Their goal is to the promote local development and the improvement of food security for 160,000 inhabitants in the area, however, in these times of the coronavirus pandemic, the task of increasing agricultural production is even more important.The project, which is supported by Oxfam international and financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, completed its first phase in 2019 by increasing production 93 percent, raising incomes 95 percent and creating jobs, 54 percent of which are now occupied by women. With the recent health crisis, the Apocoop project has shifted its attention to the cultivation of short-cycle crops, increasing its use of organic fertilizers and insecticides as well as animal traction in order to further improve local self-sufficiency in light of current shortages.

Agricultura: Urgen medidas descentralizadoras
"Agriculture: Decentralizing measures are urgent"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Armando Nova González, Progreso Semanal, May 2nd, 2020
National food production in the Cuban agricultural sector represents a highly strategic aspect of the Cuban economy overall. Not only does it generate food for the Cuban populace, but it also contributes to the rearing of livestock and the supply of raw materials to the food processing industries on the island. Despite this importance and the great potential of the sector, however, it remains underutilized, a condition which has become particularly acute in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. To address these issues and further unlock the potential of the agricultural sector, decentralizing efforts that give more autonomy to food producers and cooperatives are necessary. Currently, 88 percent of food produced in Cuba is done by the non-state sector. Some experts believe that expanding local decision-making capabilities and market opportunities for farmers in Cuba will help in efforts towards import substitution and in regulating food prices on the island. 

Entregas a domicilio y grupos solidarios crecen en Cuba
"Home deliveries and solidarity groups grow in Cuba"
*Article posted in Spanish
Inter Press Service in Cuba, May 4th, 2020
With the social distancing efforts put in to place to confront the spread of COVID-19 on the island, a number of online shopping and home delivery services have sprung up in Cuba over the past few months. Some are state-run while others are the product of budding entrepreneurs in the private sector. While still beset by a number of problems, applications like Cuber and Agronline have proven important ways of addressing food system issues in this age of social distancing. Cuber is a Cuban-born variant of Uber, which during the pandemic has stopped with taxi rides and instead begun operating as a courier service that offers home delivery of food and other essential products. Agronline is similar to Cuber and offers home delivery of fresh agricultural products. These are joined by a number of other food services, many run by private restaurants, that have found a way to transition into the new economic realities of the coronavirus. 

Autoridades cubanas ponen en primero plano produción agrícola
"Cuban authorities put agricultural production in the foreground"
*Article posted in Spanish
Prensa Latina, May 4th, 2020
Cuban authorities today emphasized the importance of agricultural production on the island in order to confront Covid-19 and provide food to the population. According to the Cuban Minister of Agriculture, Gustavo Rodríguez, efforts to address food availability and access have been redoubled to account for the difficulty in importing food at present. He reiterated that the agricultural sector has been focusing on improving domestic food production, particularly of rice and pork. Additionally, the sector entails some one million workers, some of which have been relocated or asked to work from home to reduce the spread of the virus through the food system. To date, the agriculture system has delivered 962 tons of food to the isolation centers that have been set up across the island as well as more than 44 thousand tons of potatoes have made them available to the local Defense Councils to distribute where it is most needed.

Desafíos para Cuba en materia de producción alimentaria en tiempos de COVID-19
"Challenges for Cuba in food production in times of COVID-19"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Randy Alonso Falcón, Thalía Fuentes Puebla, María del Carmen Ramón, & Angélica Arce Montero, Mesa Redonda, May 4th, 2020
To discuss some of the challenges facing the Cuban agricultural sector in this time of pandemic, the Minister of Agriculture, Gustavo Rodríguez, recently appeared on Mesa Redonda along with Manuel Santiago Sobrino Martínez, the Minister of the Food Industry, and Julio Andrés García Pérez, President of the AZCUBA Business Group. The officials highlighted the need to improve domestic self-sufficiency and increase agricultural production overall to substitute for food that would otherwise have to be imported. According to the Rodríguez, agricultural producers so far have responded positively to the government's calls to improve domestic sowing and cultivation. In preparation for the rainy season, farmers have begun readying land for short-cycle crops to further boost production. Figures presented by the officials show a 20% increase in the state's stockpiles of agricultural products. Rice and pork production on the island have also been prioritized in the face of more limited food imports. 

¿Miel ecológica en Cuba? 
"Ecological honey in Cuba?"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Ramón Barreras Ferrán, Trabajadores, May 4th, 2020
Cuba has exceptional conditions for the production of organic honey not only because of the national focus on ecological farming methods, but also given the natural characteristics of its diverse flora upon which the honey bees feed. In 2001, Cuba produced its first organic honey, which has since gained demand on the international market for its exceptional quality. This year, Cuba plans to export more than 8,300 tons of honey, 1,400 higher than was exported the previous year. According to Jorge Mora Garay, a beekeeper from the Cumanayagua municipality who has 20 years of experience, one ton of the organic honey that he produces is worth $24,000 on the international market. To date, he has managed to produce about 9 tons and aims to reach 15 tons as he expands his operation to entail 270 hives all of which are managed using organic and ecological methods.

Washington fines agricultural company for selling food to Cuba without informing the government
By: Rui Ferreira, OnCuba, May 7th, 2020
Although the sale of food to Cuba by US companies is permitted, American exporter Biomin America, which is a company that specializes in animal nutrition, was recently fined by the Treasury Department for shipments of agricultural products to the island. According to US officials, companies such as Biomin America are included in the OFAC regulations and therefore, must request permission to establish a business relationship with Cuba even though the agricultural products in question were not produced in the US. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy has recently asked for clarification about these policies and to confirm that they do not preclude companies and humanitarian organizations from providing essential medical equipment, food, and information to the people of Cuba to combat COVID-19. Neither the State Department nor the Treasury Department has yet issued a reply as of May 6th, 2020. 
*See also:
Cuba denounces US food purchases under adverse conditions
Prensa Latina, May 7th, 2020

Abrirá la primera planta de harina de yuca de Cuba
"The first cassava flour plant in Cuba will open"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Julio Martínez Molina, Granma, May 12th, 2020
The Antonio Maceo cooperative, which belongs to the Horquita Agricultural Company in the province Cienfuegos, has recently put the finishing touches on what will be the first cassava flour production plant in the country. According to the Ministry of Agriculture delegate in the province, Yoan Sarduy Alonso, the plant is a modern minindustry that will have a manufacturing capacity of two tons for each eight-hour shift. Cassava flour, which is in addition to being nutritious and calorie-dense is also quite popular across Latin America, will contribute to the national production of breads, cookies and other foods at a time when Cuba needs to strengthen local solutions to substitute for food items that are otherwise imported. Waste products from the cassava processing will be used as animal feed in the province. 

Un tanto a favor de la Agricultura Urbana, Suburbana y Familiar
"Somewhat in favor of Urban, Suburban and Family Agriculture"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Luz Marina Reyes Caballero, Periodico 26, May 13th, 2020
In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, urban intensive gardens, such as that of the Las Brígidas organoponico in Las Tunas province, have recently begun to boost production to respond to recent calls by the Cuban government. The Las Brígidas organoponico is run by 24-year-old Franklin Fundora and occupies approximately one hectare of land within the province capital. To date it has been planted with cucumbers, carrots, beans, lettuce, beets, peppers, radishes, aubergines, Swiss chard and other salads, in addition to chives and chili peppers, all of which are marketed directly to the consumers. Fundora uses a variety of agroecological and organic practices and makes use of an irrigation system that was manufactured in the province. Such work recently earned Las Brígidas recognition as the best organoponic and intensive vegetable garden in Las Tunas.

Empresa de Vietnam dona 100 toneladas de arroz para médicos cubanos que luchan contra el coronavirus
"Vietnamese company donates 100 tons of rice to Cuban doctors fighting coronavirus"
*Article posted in Spanish
Ciber Cuba, May 13th, 2020
A Vietnamese company, called Viglacera, recently donated 100 tons of rice to Cuba. This gift of food was addressed to the doctors and nurses in Cuba, who are currently dealing with the coronavirus as well as a severe food crisis on the island. These efforts by Viglacera, which has significant investments in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), are just the latest in by private and governmental entities in Vietnam, which have a long history of solidarity with their Caribbean ally. Vietnam has repeatedly made such generous offers in the past, including another shipment of 5000 tons of rice in April. For its part, Vietnam has managed to contain the coronavirus and so far has only 288 confirmed cases and no deaths.

Campesinado holguinero celebrará su día el 17 de mayo desde casa
"Peasant from Holguin will celebrate his day on May 17 from home"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Vanessa PernÍa Arias, teleCristal, May 12th, 2020
With more than 37 thousand associates in Holguín, Cuba's National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) has begun organizing various activities for May 17th in order to celebrate the 59th anniversary of the organization's foundation and the 61st anniversary of the signing of the Agrarian Reform Law. The 74th anniversary of the murder of peasant leader Niceto Pérez will also be commemorated at this time, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic, most of these celebrations will take place from home. According to Osmany Morales, member of the Provincial Bureau of ANAP, traditional recreational activities will not take place, but the important date will nevertheless be marked.

Punto de venta de productos agropecuarios: experiencia que llegó para quedarse
"Point of sale of agricultural products: experience that is here to stay"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Tay Beatriz Toscano Jerez, 5 de Septiembre, May 13th, 2020
In light of the coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing measures undertaken, producers from the Antonio Maceo cooperative in the town of Horquita in Cienfuegos have implemented a new point of sale system for streamlining the delivery of produce from producers to the state collection agency, Acopio. The new point of sale system has cooperatives directly purchasing food from producers on scheduled days of the week. These goods are then sold to Acopio, which schedules collection times and transports the goods to their final destination. This system aims to make the process more efficient and allows farmers to be reimbursed for their goods more quickly.

La solidaridad y el esfuerzo de nuestros campesinos ponen límites a la COVID-19
"The solidarity and effort of our peasants put limits on COVID-19"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Gladys Leidys Ramos, Granma, May 15th, 2020
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cuba, the Fidel-inspired notion of "giving what we have and not what we have left over" has become part and parcel of the nation's response. In addition to responding to calls for increased agricultural production, this solidarity has manifested within the Cuban food sector as increasing donations of food to hospitals, nursing homes and isolation centers by farmers and cooperatives with the aim of improving the nutrition of the patients. Since the first such donation took place--a delivery of food by the Frank País cooperative to the Pedro Kourí Tropical Medicine Institute in Artemisa province--the number of donations has increased rapidly and are expected to reach between 248 tons between May and July. 

Productora de miel en contramaestre y su clave del éxito
“Honey producer Contramaestra and its key to success”
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Milagros Alonso Pérez, Sierra Maestra, May 17th, 2020
The Contramaestre plant in Santiago de Cuba processes both conventional and domestic honey and produces a number of other goods, in particular wax, which is used by apiarists for beekeeping purposes. After the elimination of impurities and de-humidification, the honey that the plant processes is destined for either domestic consumption in Cuba's five easternmost provinces or for export, particularly to European countries such as Germany. Employing some 25 workers, the Contramaestre plant is currently operating in "overdrive" according to plant manager Alejandro Ávila Garcés. In 2019, they significantly exceeded their production goals and for 2020, they look to process almost 3,509 tons of honey fetching between 1,700 and 1,800 USD per ton. 

Industria conservera espirituana inicia zafra del mango
"Espirituana canning industry begins mango harvest"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Luis Herrera, Escambray, May 19th, 2020
The Canned Vegetable Industry of Sancti Spíritus is currently undertaking a campaign to collect and process 1,850 tons of fruit, particularly mango and guava, as part of the Cuban government's call to increase food production in light of the current coronavirus pandemic. For these efforts, which are expected to reach  640 tons of food products per month, the plant is looking to purchase fruit from within the province and in neighboring provinces. In a recent interview for Centrovisión, plant director Juan Carlos Guzmán Furgel was asked about the steps taken to prevent disease transmission for the workers it employs. In addition to personal protective gear, which employees will change several times throughout their shifts, workers are also being directed to wash their hands regularly and maintain proper social distancing. To date, only one of the plant's 257 employees has become ill with COVID-19.

Destacan incremento de las producciones del sector campesino en Cienfuegos
"Outstanding increase in the productions of the peasant sector in Cienfuegos"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Roberto Alfonso Lara, 5 de Septiembre, May 19th, 2020
Santiesteban Pozo, president of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), recently visited several farms, cooperatives and agricultural centers in the province of Cienfuegos. During his trip, which included a visit to the cooperative 10 de Octubre, the ANAP president lauded the efforts of farmers in Cienfuegos in responding to calls for increased domestic food production. Located near La Vega mountain in the municipality of Cumanayagua, the 10 de Octubre cooperative has recently undertaken their spring sowing season, planting some 26 hectares of various crops including cabbage, cucumber, squash, and sweet potato and another 16 hectares to coffee.The visit to Cienfuegos by the ANAP leader took place as part of the May 17 celebrations marking the 59th anniversary of the organization and the 61st anniversary of the historic signing of the Agrarian Reform Law.

La ciencia agropecuaria en función de la pandemia
"Agricultural science based on the pandemic"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Mary Luz Borrego & Yosdany Morejon, Escambray, May 19th, 2020
Researchers from Sancti Spiritus province have remained active during the pandemic with the development of more than 80 projects and experiments, linked to the production of medicine and ensuring food security. Leonel Díaz Camero, the province's representative from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), recently explained to Escambray that these investigations are being carried out at various experimental stations and scientific centers within the province. In particular, Camero mentioned that efforts to locate and test new varieties of crops are being carried out as are efforts to bring in new crops, such as chickpeas. Other projects seek to develop soy and sorghum and several highly productive varieties of corn, important crops that can contribute to import substitution for animal feed.

¿Cómo marchan las producciones de huevo y de carne de cerdo y pollo en el país?
"How are the egg and pork and chicken productions going in the country?"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Abel Reyes Montero, Granma, May 19th, 2020
During the coronavirus pandemic, the Cuban poultry and livestock sector are under great pressure to increase the production of goods that are in high demand by the Cuban populace, in particular eggs, chicken and pork. While numbers from the first quarter indicate that Cuban egg production has increased substantially, Cuban chicken and pork production continue to fall short of demand. The pork sector, in particular, has been hampered by the low availability of feed. Alternatives, such as the use of liquid feed, derived from organic food waste from the tourist sector, are also in low supply. Chicken production is also struggling under current conditions with production numbers far short of the 300,000 tons of chicken that Cuba imports annually. 

De la papa a cultivos de ciclo corto en Ciego de Ávila
"From potatoes to short-cycle crops in Ciego de Ávila"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Pastor Batista Valdés, Invasor, May 19th, 2020
Having just concluded the annual potato harvest, which had previously occupied almost 70% of farmland in the province, the farmers of Ciego de Ávila have turned their sites to other crops in order to respond to recent calls for increased agricultural production, especially of short-cycle crops. Already, an additional 500 hectares of corn, 109 of pumpkin, 54 of beans, 16 of sweet potato, 15 of cassava, 6 of cucumber and 20 of banana have been planted with the aim of taking advantage of the uniquely fertile soils in the province as well as relative water availability and modern irrigation infrastructure. While the tourism industry in Ciego de Ávila has declined drastically, like elsewhere in the country, the region remains vitally important for agricultural production especially in this time pandemic. 
*See also:
Cultivos de ciclo corto pisan los talones de la papa
"Short-cycle crops tread on the heels of the potato"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Pastor Batista Valdés, Bohemia, May 20th, 2020

Bandec disminuye tasas de interés a unidades productoras de alimentos y a agricultores
"Bandec reduces interest rates to food producing units and farmers"
*Article posted in Spanish
Granma, May 22nd, 2020
The Cuban bank of credit and commerce, Bandec, which lends to many of the nation's food producers, has recently reduced interest rates on lending in order to promote increased food production during this time of pandemic on the island. Specific food products, such as rice, beans, corn, vegetables, beef and pork, are of particular focus of these new credit efforts which for individual producers will amount to between 2.5 and 3.5 percent interest. Generous repayment terms and debt forgiveness are also able to be negotiated with Bandec as Cuba attempts to ensure food security on the island and substitute for imports. 

Renacer desde la tierra
"Reborn from Earth"
*Article posted in Spanish
By: Diana Torres Cuza, Radio Mambi, May 22nd, 2020
Increasing food production is a priority in Cuba during these times of pandemic, however, it is not only a goal to be pursued on a large scale. Nilda Iglesias Domecq is a professor of mathematics at the Universidad de Oriente in Santiago de Cuba, but after the passing of her father, she also began a small farm where today she produces some 50 different types of fruits and vegetables. Nilda finds that her professional work and agricultural work do not detract from each other but rather, that they are complementary. She has even begun to integrate renewable energy technologies, including two biogas facilities, a solar dryer and an ecological bathroom, into her farm. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to reinforce the importance of planting in small spaces and of taking care of the land, ideas which are shared by many small-scale farmers in Cuba.

Aumentar la producción de alimentos, una prioridad para Cuba
"Increasing food production, a priority for Cuba"
*Article posted in Spanish
Prensa Latina, May 24th, 2020
The President of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, affirmed in a news conference today that the increased production of food on the island is a priority as is the decrease in imports of food products. For his part, the Minister of the Food Industry, Manuel Sobrino Martínez, explained that they are currently working to revive the technology necessary to improve the domestic production of canned sausages, dough, yogurt, oil and wheat flour. The Minister of Agriculture, Gustavo Rodríguez, referred to efforts in the agricultural sector to boost production through spring planting and the construction of new organopónicos, which will boost the production of various crops as well as eggs and meat.

El robo de ganado, un mal innecesario
"Cattle theft, an unnecessary evil" *Article posted in Spanish
By: Fernando R. Funes Monzote, La Joven Cuba, May 24th, 2020
The theft and illegal slaughter of  cattle is one of the most serious problems that plagues Cuban agriculture. Recently, author Fernando Funes Monzote and his family had several of their milk cows stolen off of their farm Finca Marta in Artemisa province. According to Funes, the cows were used on the farm for his family's milk consumption and had also recently given birth to two calves, which since the theft have been orphaned and in need of alternative source of feeding. This is the third time that the Funes Monzote family has had cattle stolen from them. In order to combat this problem, Funes Monzote proposes making beef an agricultural product which Cuban farmers can directly market themselves, instead of having to go though the state. Legalizing the slaughter and marketing of cattle outside of state hands, Funes Monzote believes, will disincentivize illegal theft and slaughter while incentivizing production and employment.


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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