Las Tunas.- Increasing crop yields, improving living conditions for men and women in rural areas, and strengthening the application of scientific and technological knowledge in the fields are the strategic lines the country is pursuing to promote agricultural development.
Given the importance of this sector to the Cuban economy, and of course the people's food security, many initiatives are underway to develop the entire system, especially at its most basic level.
In this effort, playing an essential role are projects undertaken with the collaboration of international institutions, to provide farmers not only materiel, but knowledge as well, to perform their work better.
In the province of Las Tunas, located in Cuba's eastern region, the results of work carried out jointly by local and international institutions are palpable, and have led to substantive improvements in the level of production, and in the level of satisfaction of those working the land.
BIOMASS TECHNOLOGY IN CUBA, THE FACE OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
“Biomass, a renewable energy source for rural areas," is a project coordinated by the Grass and Fodder Experimental Station, located in Indio Hatuey, Matanzas, which has financing from the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency (COSUDE), and works in this eastern region as well.
Known as Biomas Cuba, the project has among its essential objectives the integrated production of food and energy on the basis of biomass, and the improvement of living conditions equally for both men and women in the countryside.
Currently the project is in its second phase, working on farms selected by sector leadership bodies, four in the municipality of Las Tunas, and 18 in Manatí.
The coordinator of the project in the province, MSc Jorge Luis Rivero Moreno, explained to Granma International that the effort includes several fundamental areas of focus, the production of biogas with digester septic tanks being the most successful.
“We have campesinos involved in rearing pigs who find disposing of their animals' excrement difficult.
Thus, we have proposed a rational use of this waste to them, which has no effect on the environment, does not emit gases into the atmosphere, and at the same time is a renewable source of energy," Rivero reported.
This is not however the only focus of work, the project has also had an impact on expanding the use of organic compost and biological fertilizers; the cultivation of idle land; and the use of native microorganisms and their reproduction - with technology acquired from Asian countries which allows for the production of compost and animal feed from organic material, among other uses.
All of this on the basis of training provided to primary producers.
For the processing of animal waste, so-called biodigestors have been constructed with the help of expert advisors. The methane gas produced in these anaerobic septic tanks is collected and used in rural homes for stoves, lighting, and refrigeration - thanks to the efforts of campesino families with equipment designed specifically to handle methane, provided by the project.
The most significant outcome has been the improvement of living conditions in these homes, while employment has also been generated, and the use of environmentally friendly practices in agriculture expanded.
ON THE ROAD TO FOOD SECURITY
With the sponsorship of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the support of the Cuban government, launched in seven provinces was a national program for 2015-2018 to guarantee food security and improve nutrition for vulnerable groups within the population.
According to Yordanka Fonseca Quevedo, WFP monitor in Las Tunas, to achieve this objective the program's work in focused on three strategic areas, with special emphasis on strengthening food production/distribution chains by building stronger links within the system.
"In this case, being strengthened is the production of beans, given their nutritional value, the role they play in the Cuban population's food culture, and their importance in the substitution of imports. Our intention is to maintain the stable presence of this legume in the social security system (childcare centers, maternal homes, community centers for older adults, the family attention system…) Fonseca explained.
In the specific case of Las Tunas, two municipalities are benefiting: Amancio and Manatí, with eight production entities and a total of 87 farmers participating. As the program advances, more resources will be made available, including irrigation systems, harvesters, tillers, tractors with a variety of implements, and other materials as needed by producers, depending on the crops grown and in accordance with what might be provided by other projects or programs.
Beginning in September of 2015, a diagnostic assessment was conducted to identify the many links in the chain of activities involved in providing beans, to reveal the weakest. It was precisely the production level which was identified as in need of strengthening, although collection and distribution by the wholesale enterprise, as well as the provision of seeds, were also identified as in need of improvement.
Several actions have been taken to date; among the most significant was a fair to showcase different varieties, held in the municipality of Amancio.
Fonseca reported that 25 varieties were planted, to determine which were best adapted to the region's environment, and explained, "Participating in the fair were all the producers selected for the program, directors of farming entities (cooperatives and enterprises), and even representatives from the vulnerable groups who would be benefited. After an evaluation of all the steps in the bean's productive process and yields attained, five varieties were selected, which are those that will begin to be extended."
OTHER FRUITS OF COLLABORATION
Although these are among the most significant, other projects are also underway in the province, with a notable impact on agricultural development and increased production.
The National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) is now carrying out three such projects. Adalicia Morales Madrazo, in charge of collaboration for the organization in Las Tunas, reported that they have 216,270 CUC available, which is being put to work in the municipalities of Puerto Padre, Jesús Menéndez, Manatí and Las Tunas, in the areas of miscellaneous crops and basic livestock.
One project is financed by the non-governmental organization Bread for the World, which seeks to contribute to the development of sustainable agriculture, via the generalization of agro-ecological practices.
Another, supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) small donations effort, is focused on strengthening the sustainability of farming and food security; while the third - with funds from the aforementioned COSUDE - supports the creation of capacities and conditions needed by cooperatives to develop better management.
Likewise the Las Tunas chapter of the Cuban Association of Agricultural, Livestock, and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF), is carrying out two projects. One entitled, "Support to agricultural development in the municipality of Colombia, Cuba," is an extension of a project of the same name which officially ended in July of 2015.
Engineer Dania Freyre González, president of the provincial ACTAF, explained that this effort is managed by the Mundbat Foundation in Spain, and has financing of some 73,000 CUC, from the Japanese embassy in Cuba, with the direct beneficiary being the Ramiro Núñez González Basic Unit of Cooperative Production (UBPC) in the municipality of Colombia.
"The principal actions set for the project are related to the rehabilitation of a dairy, to increase its production by some 70,000 liters of milk annually; the expansion of a livestock module for the raising of rabbits; and the installation of an irrigation system on 13.42 hectares, for the production of corn and beans," Freyre reported.
Other tangible results in the province have been achieved by the Más Alimentos (More Foods) program, coordinated by the Food Processing Industry Ministry, supported with credit approved during the administration of Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff.
Devoted primarily to the production of corn and beans, the program has made possible the acquisition of 22 tractors, 11 planter-fertilizers, 10 harvesters, 24 sprayers, and 86 irrigation systems, among other resources. Thanks to this new technology, greater efficiency has been achieved in challenging areas such as the preparation of land for cultivation.
MORE POSITIVE RESULTS
Regardless of the differing sources of financing, objectives set, or strategies used, the majority of these projects address issues that go beyond agricultural production, and even impact family dynamics.
Reducing the gender gaps, promoting equality of opportunity, and generating employment for rural women, are all goals included in different stages of these projects. Likewise, training programs put small farmers in a better position to carry out their daily work.
The ultimate objective is agricultural development, with the improvement of living conditions for the rural population always a priority, a principle that is central to the Cuban socialist model.