By Robyn Marshall
BRISBANE — Cuban environmentalist Luis Sanchez told a meeting here on November 25 that the most pressing problem facing Cuba since the fall of the Eastern bloc was the production of food.
Sanchez is touring Australia as a guest of the Australia-Cuba friendship Society and the Green Team, exchanging information on the green movement and in particular alternative ways of producing food using small-scale organic agriculture.
A committee member of the "Horticultural Group of Santa Fe", he said the community is growing vegetables in the city itself, in between buildings and on the sides of streets. This was done to avoid the cost of oil for transporting food from the countryside to the city. They are growing tomatoes, cassava, sweet potato and lettuces using compost and animal manure.
A Cuban video, The Greening of Cuba, showed this extraordinary process. Sanchez stressed that organic growing of food is a necessity if Cuba is to survive the 30-year blockade. The state provides seed and guarantees credit to the small city communities.
He added that this is also the future of Cuban agriculture. Even if the blockade was lifted, Cuba could not return to the old ways of massive use of pesticides and chemicals and agriculture on a scale of 200 hectares. "We have to change the way of thinking about agriculture and see agriculture as an alliance with nature not a war", added Sanchez.
On October 1, the Cuban government opened up the agricultural free market, where farmers can go to sell their excess produce to the public. Farmers first have to fill a set quota which is sold to the state to supply schools, hospitals and the official shops where people buy a set amount at a fixed price with their ration card.
Once farmers have fulfilled their state obligations, they are permitted to sell in the market. The government is certain that it will stimulate production by opening the market in this way and still maintain its socialist objectives.
The amount of food on the ration card guarantees some rice, beans, meat, sugar (12kg) and oil per month, about 60gm of protein per person, per day. Children aged 3-7 are guaranteed a litre of milk a day, but other Cubans don't have access to milk because of the shortage of cattle and the high cost of feed.
The consumption of protein in Cuba at the moment is low but no-one is dying of hunger. Sanchez said that everyone is riding bicycles to work and is very fit. They are eating a lot more sugar for energy.
However the production of their export crop, sugar, is still a problem because the sugar varieties they use need fertilisers and pesticides.