Pedro Sanchez: Contrasting Food Security in Cuba and Africa
What is the food security situation in Cuba today?
We can learn a lot from Cuban farming because the drastic changes in agriculture structure – the ups and downs in the last half-century – have been amazing, no other country has gone that way. Cuba is importing about 80 percent of its food at a cost of $2 billion a year, which is about three percent of their GDP, a very high proportion. So, in that sense, it’s not very good. Now, unlike Africa, you don’t see malnourished people in Cuba, you don’t see stunted kids. But at times, there are scarcities of food, and the main thing is, a tropical country with excellent resources should not be importing 80 percent of its food.
Where are opportunities for improvement?
There is about 1.3 million acres of idle land in Cuba with excellent soils and good infrastructure around it, such as roads and electrical grids. That represents a fantastic opportunity for increasing food security when you have that good quality of land that is basically sitting there doing nothing. Probably one of the best ways Cuba can improve its agriculture production, in addition to putting all these ideal lands in gear, is to transfer most of it into the hands of the private sector, whether that is private farmers or a cooperative made of private farmers. And right now, that process is going on. Farmers can get the land as long as they produce something on it and some farmers are doing very, very well.
What about sustainable agriculture in Africa?
I’ve been dedicating the last 25 years of my professional life into Africa because that’s where the biggest problems are in terms of hunger alleviation, poor agricultural production, and so on. And from an African point of view – where things are going very well now, Africa is beginning now to take off in terms of agriculture and everything else – some of the highest in GDP growth rates in the world are now in Africa. Compare that to Cuba, it’s a very interesting comparison, but of course we’re talking about a huge continent with 49 independent countries in sub-Saharan Africa as opposed to a pretty small country. In some crops, the African yields are higher than those in Cuba, including sugar cane, which used to be the flagship of Cuban agriculture when I was growing up.
Tell us about your work with the International Soil Science Society.
This year, 2015, is the International Year of Soils. If we didn’t have soils on this planet we wouldn’t be here. The fact that soils can sequester carbon, cut down on global warming and regulate water, you put dirty water in soil, and after a while it becomes clean… So this has helped us a lot to have more people aware. It’s good.