The following is the text of a talk given by Jorge Soberon, Cuba’s Consul General in Toronto, Canada, to a meeting of food sovereignty sponsored by the Venezuela We Are With You Coalition (CVEC).
As a sovereign country, Cuba is working to develop its food industry and reduce dependence on food imports.
Cuba is working to ensure an adequate level of food to more than 11 million inhabitants. In Cuba no one is helpless or dying of hunger. There are special programs to ensure food for the most vulnerable segments of the population.
To achieve this goal, Cuba faces high world market prices and the growing negative effects of climate change and the policy of the United States.
Food imports from the United States continue to be affected by insecurity. They are subject to strict supervision and licensing for export and transportation of agricultural products to our country. Moreover, Cuba has no access to the technologies available in the United States or to credit from that country.
The Cuban government has identified food production as a major task and a matter of utmost national security. More than half of the agricultural land in Cuba is held by non-governmental organizations.
Due to the demise of the Soviet Union and the strengthening of the blockade of the United States during the 90s, Cuba faced an economic crisis that forced us to seek solutions to our national food production.
Thus the urban agriculture in Cuba, a country where 75% of its population lives in urban areas, but an important part comes from the countryside and has farming culture.
Urban agriculture is carried out throughout the country and is planned taking into account the number of inhabitants of each town or city. The organic matter that is used and the biological controls in place makes it possible to preserve the fertility of the soil. The available area is used to produce food in an intensive manner. Science and technology are applied, maintaining a supply of fresh products, all with the goal of obtaining a balanced production of agricultural products.
Urban agriculture is an important source of income, due to the demand of the popular market, the workplaces, and special places that exist to take care of vulnerable populations. The high educational level of the people facilitates the rapid assimilation of new techniques and technologies. Urban agriculture constitutes a major source of urban nutrition, contributes to the elimination of urban rubbish dumps and constitutes an important source of employment. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have jobs in urban agriculture. In Cuba, urban agriculture is supported by seed houses and agricultural centres of production of organic matter.
Foods obtained through urban agriculture constitute an important amount of the total consumed by the population in cities, in addition to other options like imported food or food guaranteed by the state.
The system of urban agriculture in Cuba produced more than 1.4 million tons of food in 2008, in more than nine thousand hectares located in all municipalities. In 10 years, vegetable production increased six times over.
Three factors have been crucial to their advancement: Training of the workforce. The system of payment to workers by the end results of labour. Systematic evaluation of the results.
Urban agriculture is one of the best alternatives for the restoration of food production after the passage of hurricanes, allowing the recovery of agricultural production in few months.
Among the recent steps taken to further develop agricultural production is the distribution of vacant land for its use, for those that can produce food. At present, Cuba is modernizing its food industry to increase the ability to process and preserve agricultural products.
The development of agriculture in Cuba receives strong support from the state. The actions taken contribute to food security and adequate nutrition. The goal is not only to produce food, but also to make it affordable and accessible to the population. The habit of consuming vegetables has grown and generates jobs and income, product prices are competitive and urban agriculture has improved hygiene and sanitation of the cities by developing agriculture in areas that are abandoned.
In addition, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA: Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela) is a tool for agricultural and rural development of nations of the region and aims to ensure access to fair and stable prices of basic foods through cooperation on food sovereignty and security.
Cuba will continue to work and cooperate with other countries to ensure the solution of dietary and nutritional needs for all its people, protecting and enhancing thereby the living standards of the Cuban people and other peoples and promoting national initiatives to ensure our sovereignty and independence in food production and distribution.
[Thanks for this to Suzanne Weiss of CVEC.]