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Monday, January 26, 2015

Cuba’s Harvest of Surprises

Cornucopia | Jan 22, 2015 | Christopher D. Cook
Source: Thomas Münter
"Flanked by a lush, dark-green eruption of chard and fava beans at a tiny eighth-of-an-acre garden plot in Berkeley, Altieri scribbles numbers on a notepad, producing some compelling calculations: Applying agroecology methods on 1200 acres of public lands, the city of Oakland could produce 25,000 tons of food annually—enough to feed at least 400,000 people—without any pesticides or genetically engineered “super plants.” Such a change would be huge, Altieri argues, since the Bay Area imports 6,000 tons of food each day, which lean heavily on fossil fuel. But for a host of reasons, it’s not likely, he says."
In the fall of 1989, a full quarter-century before President Obama normalized US relations with Cuba, the Berlin Wall came tumbling to the ground in a flurry of sledgehammers and concrete dust. Meanwhile, an economic tsunami was brewing on the small Caribbean island. The Soviet Bloc was crumbling fast, sending shock waves across the globe that would plunge Cuba’s food and farming into years of austerity, hunger, and radical overhaul.

Earlier that year, the international socialist market terminated Cuba’s favorable trade rates—abruptly curtailing 85 percent of the tiny nation’s trade. Imports of wheat and other grains dropped by more than half; food rationing set in, and hunger widened. Soviet aid, a pillar of Cuba’s economy, evaporated as U.S. economic sanctions tightened.

Economic collapse led swiftly to agricultural crisis. Cuba’s industrialized farming system, fueled, literally, by Soviet tractors and petrochemicals, ground to a halt. Oil imports fell by 53 percent, and the supply of pesticides and fertilizers fell by 80 percent. Launching an era of austerity and reform known as the “Special Period in Time of Peace,” the Castro government “instituted drastic measures such as planned blackouts, the use of bicycles for mass transportation, and the use of animals in the place of tractors” to meet the unfolding crisis, according to a report by Food First, a U.S.-based think tank focused on food justice issues.

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