Friday, June 22, 2012

Cuba: Small Farmers and Office Workers

Cuba: Small Farmers and Office Workers
June 21, 2012
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — It's understandable that communists try to promote public
property over private property – that's the essence of their ideology.

However it's also true that the manuals on Marxism say that practice is
the criterion of truth.

Can the Cuban state continuing making efforts to save some state-run
farms, though stubborn reality shows that these represent the most
unproductive agricultural model on the island, even reflected by the
official statistics?

Practice tells us that after the distribution of land to campesinos,
agricultural production grew steadily, reaching an almost 10 percent
increase in the first half of 2012. During that same period, the
government's potato harvest plummeted.

Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodriguez justified the losses, starting
first by pointing to the usual culprit — the weather — and continuing by
blaming the lack of organizational foresight, phytosanitary problems,
irrigation, the misapplication of machinery, soil and water testing, and
the training of workers.

That was a surprising wealth of unexpectedness, disorganization and
inefficiency for a ministry with more than one million employees, and
one that is managed by people who proclaim their adherence to the
"planned economy" as an economic model.

In any case, a portion of the 11,000 tons of potatoes that disappeared
can be found around every farmers market. Of course one has to pay much
more to speculators who hoard these and then resell them.

But the Ministry of Agriculture is dedicated to "assessing the causes of
failure" and to analyzing its errors. This would be like the Civil
Defense System spending more time assessing the damage during a
hurricane than protecting the citizens.

And even with all this analyzing they don't still understand what's
happening. Publicly they confess that they don't understand why "some
producers exceed 27 tons per hectare while others cannot even reach 15,
though their plots are right next to each other."

The revelation of what's behind such mysteries of Cuban agriculture
could be aided by three steps: office workers leaving the
air-conditioning of those offices, getting their shoes a little muddy
and — above all — going up to the farmers to listen to what they think.

I remember that Alejandro Robaina — one of the best cigar producers in
Cuba — told me that there's a piece of land on his farm that doesn't
produce good tobacco, but the government technicians always pressured
him to plant it.

Each agronomist who came along insisted on cultivating there, but he
explained to them that it was a waste of time "because my grandfather
and my father had already put it to the test." He never managed to
convince them, but nor could they force him to plant it because the
property was his, not state-owned.

A friend recalls that decades ago a group of Soviet agronomists
concluded that it was necessary to change the working methods used by
farmers in the province of Guantanamo. They advocated digging deeper
with their plows and not letting the water runoff and be wasted.

Further studies found out that this action brought out the salt from the
earth, with the aggravating circumstance that the water couldn't drain
it away because it was contained. If they had listened to the guajiros
(small farmers) perhaps now they wouldn't have such serious problems
with salinity in the region.

They only give the campesinos directives and impose prohibitions,
setting prices and adopting "administrative measures against the
violators." Interestingly, they don't talk about sanctions against the
senior managers within the ministry who were unable to lead correctly.

But certainly most Cubans agree with the minister of Agriculture when he
says: "We have no right to repeat the mistakes of the potato harvest.
There's still a need for greater integration of design and control."

The trouble is that every year after they fail, they come up with some
slogan similar to that one. True, there's no right to repeat mistakes
when it comes to food for people, but the first ones who should believe
this are the office workers who manage the farmers.

(*) An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish
original) published by BBC Mundo.

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