Cuba: The Accidental Revolution

This is a very educational article. KK

Cuba: the accidental revolution

Interview with Dr. Fernando Funes Sr.

Cuba modeled itself on Green Revolution-style farm economy - enormous production units, using huge quantities of imported chemicals and machinery to produce export crops, while over half of the island's food was imported. In 1989 this model suddenly collapsed and Cubans were left wondering how they would feed themselves.

Dr. Fernando Funes Sr. a researcher at the Pasture and Forage Institute (IIPF) in Havana, and secretary of the Organic Agriculture Group (GAO) of the Cuban Association of Agronomists and Foresters (ACTAF) talks about how Cubans turned towards self-reliance and subsequently developed remarkable acheivements – sustainable farming and alternative medicine.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET BLOCK, WHAT DID THAT DO TO CUBAN AGRICULTURE?

We used to have a great support from the Soviet Union and the rest of the Socialist countries. We imported those grains to raise cattle at a very reasonable price. We also enjoy benefits to effect payments in the long term. We imported oil, machinery so that we could preserve the green revolution model for all those years with very good result. We also got cows like the one called “Ubre Blanca” (White Udder). The Cuban cattle also used to give 6 to 7 liters of milk, at about 6 of average with good features on the whole but with a high energetic cost at a time when almost no one talked about power. You know, with all those benefits we used to seed a lot of pasture, of course, we depend on animal feed and the same a lot, as well as on all those chemical products and on oil in large amounts.

In 1989 something happened all of the sudden. It was a big surprise for all of us as we didn't expect such a fast breakdown. The socialist block collapsed just in a blink. As so many authors have recognized everything happened unexpectedly so the next thing we knew was that the socialist block had collapsed and the Soviet Union that was our main support had broken apart. More than the 85% of our economy depended on the socialist countries market so only the 15 % remained and some small quantities coming from the socialist countries but with a lot of difficulties as they were no the Soviet Union. These countries were Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, well all the ones that belonged to that block. Therefore it was a very tough moment, a very difficult moment for Cuba as we ran out of everything. All those cows such as “White Udder” or its descendants that had to consume high amounts of animal feed were in danger as there was no more any animal feed and the little left was to be devoted to birds, chicken and hens.

In the case of pigs, that are small eaters of highly rich animal feed such as cellulose as pasture or forage. So we didn't feed the cows in the same way, that is why a 40 liter cow couldn't could not live only with tropical pasture. It hit the population severely. Consequently there was a high migration in those years, let's say in 1990, 1991, 1992, etc. Therefore some people started to cry while others got down to their knees to cry. Nevertheless we started working and working.

WHAT ELEMENTS WERE INVOLVED IN FINDING A SOLUTION TO THESE PROBLEMS?

Well, some of us, just since the 70s started thinking that the right model was not the one of the green revolution. I can include my wife and myself on those with that idea and also among the fewest who began looking for solutions. To feed cattle with green vegetables instead of grain. We also started working with bio fertilizers as well as with other choices far from the chemical agriculture or the green revolution model. The biological means had been under researched since the 70s. At that moment state programs started to support us very strongly in the research centers to develop researches on vegetables and also on protein banks, bio fertilizer output as well as many other choices in research programs which were supported and financed by the state.

These programs kept on in the 70s and the 80s. There was a great development in some aspects. When the crisis began it was named “Periodo Especial” (Special Period) which was a word provided by the Commander in Chief, Fidel. Well, special was a point of view but it was really rough. Then we started working in the Special Period with all the research outcomes we already had. We also began to reinstating oxen yokes. We began to revive the farmers´ tradition, to redeem those who were still working, our parents, our grandparents, we also revive that tradition. We also recovered oxen yoke. We started restoring everything our ancestors had taught us, those same ancestors who never used chemicals or fertilizers or animal feed. They bred cattle very successfully and fairly efficiently. That was how we started while some others started to cry, or left the country we stood and work.

The government supported all our researchers as well as the Cuban producers to find a way out. That is the point where farmers started to play a very important role, farmers with experience, even senior ones began to explain and teach how to prepare an oxen yoke, what devices to put them on, the gears. Then it had to be arranged actions to turn male animals into oxen. Cuba had reduced the figure of about 400,000 oxen yokes or more than 300,000 to roughly 90,000 ones. Nevertheless in this new era they return again so I guess there are at about 200,000 oxen yokes right now.

We started producing many things, in such an economical way so consequently urban agriculture had started. In 1992 the urban agriculture was in zero. So after beginning in zero we were producing some hundred tons in 1993, and some thousands in 1994, and some millions afterwards, etc. We were producing 3 million tons within the city where nothing was cultivated before that, I say nothing. So we started making use of every empty space for nothing but to produce food, as there was none. We even lost a lot of weight some lost 10 pounds, some others 20 and there were people who lost 30 pounds. Personally I think I lost around 25 pounds as food availability was scarce.

HOW DID THE SPECIAL PERIOD AFFECT MEDICINE?

I haven't told you anything about the human health. This movement is connected with health. We encourage the movement in support of the use of medicinal plants or green medicine. We had a great support from the army at that time. The army was the first to start this movement. No one could ever imagine such a thing as the army is always seen as the destroyer or as war makers. Well the Cuban army started this so wonderful movement, which is the use of plants to save human lives. Because we ran out of aspirin in Cuba. It's not only that we didn't have food but also we were out of medicines, so we noticed that wild marjoram was good for well breathing or that some other give us relief from rash in the skin and other were good for some other illnesses. Then the army played an important role, afterwards it was handed to the Ministry of Agriculture. So we made a great production of medicinal plants as in Cuba they were produce only with a preventive approach we also use it with curative purposes.

As our concept upon medicinal plants was very different from this modern drugs as they are nowadays, it's like preparing men for his body to be... even though Cubans life expectancy is around 67 years old, even with all these problems we have had and I think that with all this latest news we are about 76 years. This life expectancy thing is something to be taken into account.

I also believe that this movement has a lot of followers throughout the country. It's something Cuba can show to the world and share even with more developed countries such as Canada and that how many other countries can modesty learn from Cuba. From things we can do in a more efficient way, more economical and on top of that healthier which is also very important. It's also compatible with the environment without having to use oil or the fossil energy which is being wasted out, and also the subsoil contamination under process, as well as the air and our environment.

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