The Search for Cuba's Food Security
Last month, Dr. Pedro Sanchez, a Cuban American and research professor at the University of Florida's Soil and Water Sciences Department, delivered a presentation titled "The Search for Cuba's Food Security" at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Dr. Sanchez is currently in the process of developing an environmental and food security plan jointly with the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture and seven other research institutes. Dr. Sanchez seeks to work with Cuban institutions to create agricultural independence in the country by starting with improvement in the initial stages of the food chain, such as soil testing.
Cuban soils are very fertile and contain less acid than other tropical regions—making the land perfect for agricultural production—and much of its acreages are located in valleys and flat land. Despite this, Cuba still has vast areas of land that are not in production with fertile soils. Due to this untapped potential, Cuba continues to import its food at a cost of $2 billion per year, according to Dr. Sanchez.
To offset the shortage in energy sources and food transportation, Cuba focused on creating a system of agriculture which relied on individual efforts to grow food locally. This was achieved through higher crop prices paid to farmers, agro-ecological technology, smaller production units and urban agriculture. There are currently anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000 hectares in production in Cuba's urban areas after a shift to organic farming in urban areas from 1990 to 2005. In general, cassava, beans, plantains and potatoes see the highest levels of production by Cuban farmers.
Photo: One of many vegetable gardens in small open spaces within Cuba's urban areas. Credit: Noah Friedman-Rudovsky, Craftsmanship.net.
Cuba's agricultural production systems are set up under the following three types of farms:
- Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC)—state-owned farms
- Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPA)—true cooperatives which operate with a greater level of autonomy than UBPCs
- Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCS)—land privately owned by associations of small landowners
Dr. Sanchez indicated there is great potential with existing infrastructure in place, such as roads and electricity in rural regions of the country. With upgraded machinery and improved irrigation systems, the circumstances needed to create a modern agriculture system can be met. The plan Dr. Sanchez and Cuban Ministry of Agriculture are developing has four major components:
- Seed production
- Quantify soil dynamics and the effects of nutrient pollution on food and environmental security
- Water/climate change predictions for Cuba, specifically how to use irrigation and soil moisture
- Analysis of Cuban data on soil fertility
As many other regions in the world, Cuba's youth can benefit from programs designed to pique their interest in studying agriculture and farming techniques. In addition to developing the agriculture sector's workforce, some of the priorities that Dr. Sanchez's environmental and food security plan highlights include revitalizing seed systems to produce grains, beans, maize, sorghum and soybeans; strengthening soil, water and pest management; exporting tropical fruit crops such as mango, avocado and guava to the U.S.; and building decision-support systems within the agriculture sector. To learn more about his research, visit the University of Florida's Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS).