March 2012        

Why Cuba must produce the food it needs

By Freddy Pérez Cabrera

For a country like Cuba, with scant natural resources and severe financial limitations, it is inadmissible to continue spending millions of dollars every year on imported foodstuffs, many of which could be produced nationally if the agricultural sector were more efficient and were to make due use of advances in science and technology in order to increase yields.
     As is known, last year al
one the country had to invest more than $1.7 billion on food products in the world market, an expense closely related to uncontrolled price increases in the majority of cases.
     A group of eminent scientists, including Dr Sergio Rodríguez Morales, director of the National Tropical Vegetables Research Institute (INIVIT), and Osvaldo Martínez, director of the World Economy Research Centre (CIEM), recently discussed this issue and contributed information promoting not only reflection but action.

Upside-down world

According to reports from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, in the early 1960s the countries of the South had an agricultural trade surplus of close to $7 billion per year; however, by the end of the 1980s this surplus had disappeared. Today the countries of the South are net importers of food, confirming them as having more importers and fewer producers.
     This is compounded by spiralling price increases in the last few years as a result of demographic growth, the utilisation of grains for biofuels, land erosion, the depletion of aquiferous reserves, water used for irrigation being diverted to large cities, the stagnation of agricultural yields in developed countries, climate change phenomena, and high oil prices.
     In relation to biofuels, the FAO itself has acknowledged that, from 2000, ethanol production has consumed a quarter of corn grown in the United States, which could have fed 350 million people annually.
     In order to have some idea of the gravity of the issue, in 2009 alone 416 million tons of cereals were harvested in the United States, of which 119 million were utilised to distil ethanol for automobiles.
     In Europe, where a large percentage of automobiles run on diesel fuel, there is a growing demand for this product manufactured from plants, principally based on rapeseed and palm oil.
     As Osvaldo Martínez stated, these facts are now joined by another: financial speculation linked to the sensitive issue of food, which has prompted the major powers to channel approximately $13 trillion into food markets.
     In addition, the world population has virtually doubled in recent years. From 1970 to date the world has increased by 80 million persons a year, which signifies an extra 219,000 mouths to feed every day. The majority of them will face empty plates, a reality that would seem to have no solution, given the UN’s prediction that the demand for food will increase by half by 2030.
     In terms of soil, it is estimated that one-third of global cultivable land will lose its top layer more rapidly than the surface formed by natural processes, thus losing its inherent productivity.
     In terms of food distribution, it is estimated that 25 per cent of inhabitants in developed countries consume 50 per cent of foodstuffs and the 75 per cent living in underdeveloped countries the remaining 50 per cent. Similarly, those living in developed countries spend 10–20 per cent of their salary on food; however, this rises to close to 85 per cent in poor countries.
     Another highly interesting phenomenon that has influenced prices is the increased demand for meat in emerging economies, like Brazil, Russia, India
, China, and Singapore, which in the last decade resulted in a 67 per cent increase in global consumption of soy flour.
     For example, China has become the top producer of pork in the world, with 46 per cent of the total; however, for every ton of soy produced it imports 2½ tons, which has led to steep rises in the price of raw materials for animal feed.
     Another issue of concern is the exodus of people working the land to large cities. Thus, while in the 1950s one out of every four persons lived in rural areas, the proportion now is almost half.
     In the same way, large food producers are consuming more and exporting less. Thus, 90 per cent of rice in the world is produced in Asia, a continent that exports only 10 per cent of the grain.
     No less sensitive is the subject of seeds. In the 1960s almost all of them were in the hands of agriculturalists or public institutions; today ten corporations, such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Du Pont, and Bayer, control 67 per cent of seeds.
     The case of fertilisers is similar: globally, the industrial consumption of fertiliser increased by 31 per cent between 1996 and 2008, to prices virtually out of the reach of poor countries. Suffice it to say that between January 2007 and August 2008 fertiliser prices spiralled by more than 650 per cent.
     During this period the Mosaic corporation, the third-largest in fertiliser production at the global level, increased its profits by more than 1,000 per cent!

Food production: a national security problem

Faced with this global chaos and a world committed to buying food rather than producing it, Cuba has no alternative but to work untiringly to produce the food it needs and that it will need in the future; hence the priority given to the issue by the leadership of the Revolution, which has correctly perceived it as a problem of national security.
     The fact that it is increasingly difficult for the Cuban economy to turn to markets for supplies of rice, grains, milk, coffee, and meat, which are not produced here in sufficient quantities, requires a change of mentality and the liberation of productive forces by sweeping aside the objective and subjective obstacles that stand in the way of a more rapid solution to this dilemma.
     To that end it is necessary to move from being a consumer society to becoming a sustainable one, where sound agro-ecological practices rule, as well as the efficient use of seeds, because it is proved that 50 per cent of increased yields at the global level in the last hundred years have been determined by seed quality and the introduction of new varieties.
     As the director of INIVIT, Sergio Rodríguez, has confirmed, Cuba has a vast scientific potential to be harnessed to that end.
     As the leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro, stated at the World Food Summit in Rome in October 1996, “the bells that toll today for those who die of hunger every day will toll tomorrow for humanity in its entirety if humanity does not wish to, does not know how to or fails to be wise enough to save itself from itself.”
     Organisation and struggle for stable work with rights. Immediate measures for the unemployed. Struggle for a society without unemployment, exploitation, or capitalists. The answer is socialism.

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