In a humble rural home in La Plata, the Sierra Maestra, 58 years ago, Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro signed the first Agrarian Reform Law. A few months after the triumph of the Revolution, Cuba’s land was redistributed, benefiting over 100,000 peasant families, and large private estates were transformed into state farms for the people. Since then, every May 17, the island celebrates its Día del Campesino (Cuban Farmers’ Day).
On May 17, 1946, campesino Niceto Pérez was assassinated by a landowner attempting to evict him from his small farm, María Luisa, in Guantánamo, to take the land. The crime was one of many in the Cuban countryside. According to the April 13, 1959, edition of the magazine Carteles, Cuban peasant families at the time lived mainly on rice and beans. Given their extremely low incomes, just 11% of campesinos drank milk; 4% ate meat; and 2% eggs. Meanwhile, researcher Ernesto Limia, in an article published in Cubadebate, noted that large private estates, owned by the U.S., accounted for 55% of Cuba’s total land area.
The evictions, idle time, hunger and deaths, which until then were inseparable companions of Cuba’s campesinos, came to an end with Fidel’s signing of that law.
On May 17, 1961, the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) was created, an organization that in the last 56 years “has accompanied and supported Cuban campesinos in the noble work of producing food for the people,” Rafael Santiesteban Pozo, member of the Council of State and ANAP president, tells Granma International.
Today more than 2,400,000 hectares of the country’s arable land is in the hands of small farmers and cooperatives, grouped in 3,322 grassroots ANAP organizations, with 378,000 members directly associated with the productive process. More than 50% of the products that are sold in state-owned supply and demand agricultural produce markets are produced by Cuban farmers.
These figures continue to rise, Santiesteban notes. As such, “We can say that the Association has today reached its 56th anniversary full of strength, with important contributions in the main productive lines, as well as significant improvements in the functioning of cooperatives,” he adds.
Under the slogan “Continuity, history and commitment,” the ANAP “preserves in this new anniversary its founding principles as entrusted us by the Comandante en Jefe and the leadership of the Revolution, and which make us so proud: to serve, represent, guide, and unite Cuba’s campesinos.”
THE PRIORITY IS TO WORK TOGETHER
The organization's link with the grassroots is fundamental to achieving better results. “In order to advance, the active participation of all is required. Also, joint efforts between those who make up the leadership and farmers. That’s why we have decided to meet directly with producers and learn how they undertake their work and under what conditions,” the ANAP president notes.
To this end, the ANAP leadership will carry out comprehensive controls and specialized visits throughout the year, and will give more responsibilities and tasks to the members of the provincial and municipal committees of the organization.
It will also seek to achieve better functioning in the administration of its grassroots organizations, through systematic exchanges regarding the best experiences.
Santiesteban adds that another priority on this 56th anniversary is to make further alliances with bodies, organizations, and institutions that influence rural communities.
“We want to highlight the work of the Young Communists League (UJC), which has had an intense link with campesinos in recent months, as part of the activities planned for the 55th anniversary of that organization,” he states.
Thanks to the UJC, rural youth brigades have been strengthened, as the organization serves and follows the work of the new generations of Cuban agricultural workers. “In the months of February and March, there were comprehensive activities developed among groups of young campesinos, which brought many together and resulted in greater commitment to the main areas of production,” he explains.
Meanwhile, career interest circles with themes linked to agricultural development have been extended among school children. These spaces are part of the vocational training that ANAP is promoting from an early age, in coordination with the Ministry of Education and the José Martí Pioneers Organization, as another way to continue stimulating the training of new generations of workers.
One of ANAP’s achievements on this 56th anniversary has been the increase in the number of young people in the organization’s ranks, which has risen to 29,000, the highest figure in recent years.
There has also been a significant increase in women’s participation in agricultural activities across the more than 3,000 grassroots organizations belonging to the movement, which have the privilege of having more than 68,000 women among their members, providing added strength for ANAP’s present and future tasks, Santiesteban stresses. “This has significantly influenced our relationship with the Federation of Cuban Women,” he adds.
The link with the Ministry of Culture has made it possible to organize repentismo (rural musical expression based on oral improvisation) competitions such as “Yo soy el punto cubano,” which seeks to identify people with talent of all ages in different expressions of campesino culture. In addition, ANAP has proposed improvements to the famous Cuban Television program, Palmas and Cañas, transmitted every Sunday afternoon, and which has now reached its 55th anniversary.
With the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (Inder) and the government’s leadership, “We held a Special Baseball Cup for ANAP’s 56th anniversary, and we were able to organize more than 800 teams made up of small farmers, cooperative members, and their relatives, an initiative that allowed for the recovery of more than 500 sports areas throughout the country.”
IMPROVING CONDITIONS IN RURAL AREAS
ANAP has promoted a series of actions to improve the public property of rural areas. “For example, the repair of ration stores, schools, doctors’ offices, maternity homes, and shopping centers. These establishments need to be in optimal conditions so that campesinos can work and care for the land,” Santiesteban notes.
The internal infrastructure of cooperatives has also been addressed. Conditions in 780 offices, 600 workshops, and more than 300 warehouses have been improved, a priority since this has a direct impact on the internal control of cooperatives.
“We continue to foster the advances of science and technology in our fields, despite the challenge posed by the U.S. economic blockade of our country, which considerably affects the development of this area, also impacted by the effects of climate change,” the ANAP leader explains.
Drought is severely affecting Cuba and high temperatures require that all positions for skilled workers and technicians in cooperatives are fully occupied, in order to face these conditions and achieve improved results in agricultural production.
“Much remains to be done, but the main challenge is to put into practice the efficient use of agricultural and soil technologies, crop rotation, and to achieve the use of better quality of seeds. Just as important is to continue demonstrating the values that have always characterized our campesinos: solidarity, commitment, the desire to maintain the gains achieved by the country,” Santiesteban emphasizes.
PROGRESS IN FOOD PRODUCTION
According to the ANAP president, Cuba continues to promote a culture of self-sufficiency.
“We are protecting the needs of the population from an alimentary point of view. We prioritize what the industry requires, which has a more direct impact on the import substitution program, and we are seeking to increase the range of exportable produce. At the moment there is a broad sowing movement, focused on the most efficient use of the land,” he affirms.
He acknowledges the awareness that all the needs of society are yet to be met. Nevertheless, the farmers’ organization continues to explore the productive potential of Cuban land, and today this is having a greater impact on sales of root vegetables, beans, green vegetables, and meat, which are directly reaching the population.
“If we evaluate the results for the year 2016 and the first quarter of 2017, and contrast these with the previous 15 months (2015 and the first quarter of 2016), we notice that the state’s agricultural products sales show growth,” the ANAP president reports.
The sale of root vegetables increased by 29% compared to 2015 and the first months of 2016; beans and leafy vegetables by 15%; milk by 20% (60 million liters more than in the previous period), honey by 35%; pork by 12%.
According to Santiesteban, this is a result of better work, accompanied by greater support from the government in terms of logistical supplies and inputs.
“The individual and collective participation of all structures has contributed to this growth. We are working to reach adequate levels of satisfaction of the alimentary needs of society. The organizational measures that have been implemented demonstrate this,” he explains.
There is no lack of will to improve food production, Rafael Santiesteban states. “Campesinos’ debt to the Revolution is eternal. ANAP will honor the will of the Comandante en Jefe. It will not forget that he defined the roots of our nation with words that seem as if they were pronounced today: ‘We are a small nation, but full of dignity; a small nation, but full of honor; a small nation, but full of humility; a small nation, but full of reason...’ The right to land is one aspect of that reason, and it is inalienable.”