Cuba: among the FAO's worst 'students'
In the daily edition of Granma on October 8 there was an article entitled "The FAO recognizes the Cuban government's promotion of food security".
According to Granma the representative of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, Dr. Theodor Friedrich, stated that the island is one of the FAO's best "students."
Several days later, on October 15, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of FAO and World Food Day, an interview with Dr. Friedrich appeared in the same paper.
In response to the question of how he assesses the cooperation between the Cuban government and the organization he represents, Friedrich said that Cuba boasts a special standing for the FAO, which aims to hold the country up as an example of long-term sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty.
The FAO representative said that Cuba has been the only country to meet the Millennium Development Goals with regards to hunger, and spoke glowingly of its distribution of regulated products, school nutrition and gardens, homes for the elderly, and attention to vulnerable sectors of the population, despite it being a country with limited resources.
In short, Friedrich said that Cuba is an invaluable ally for the FAO.
When the reporter for Granma asked his interviewee how the lifting of the embargo might lead Cuban agriculture to make the leap forward it needs, he stated: "The embargo is obsolete. We hope it is lifted, because it has an impact on agriculture and food security for the people. Free trade between the agricultural sectors of the United States and Cuba will not only make possible greater accessibility, but also increased production and competition between producers and importers. "
With his remarks Dr. Friedrich has done nothing but mask the dire plight of Cuban agriculture.
On 27 May, 2013 he was interviewed for the weekly publication Trabajadores, yielding the article "Cuba is an Example of Food Security." In it Dr. Friedrich stated that: "Cuba is one of the exemplary countries, having achieved food security for its people."
This assertion by the FAO representative, however, is not supported by the data appearing, for example, in the 2014 Statistical Yearbook put out by the National Statistics and Information Office. Below are some of the figures.
Cuban state farms and the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC), which together total 3,746 in number, own some 3,552,500 hectares. Of these, at the end of 2014, they were farming on just 1,269,000. Despite having the best land and machinery, due to their appalling efficiency these organizations only took advantage of 35.7% of the total arable land available to them.
The 601 Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPA) and 2,385 Credit and Services Cooperatives (CCS) - the latter composed of 1,079,600 members, including usufruct users of free land - collectively hold 2,813,399 hectares. At the end of 2014 they were cultivating 1,322,800 hectares - representing just 47.7% of the total arable land.
The lands of the agricultural enterprises and UBPCs, together with those of CCS, small farmers, and usufruct beneficiaries, come to a total of 6,365,899 ha.
At the close of 2014, however, only 2,591,800 hectares were being cultivated, just 40.7% of the total arable land in Cuba. 3,774,990 hectares of land, meanwhile, were covered in sicklebush and weeds.
Agricultural production in 2014 totalled 7,959,023 tons. Of this amount, state farms produced only 677,467, accounting for 8% of total production. Cooperatives, peasants and usufruct beneficiaries produced 7,108,217, representing 89% of agricultural production achieved last year.
What the numbers show is that it is the private and cooperative sectors that are really responsible for achieving food security, not government entities and UBPCs.
These statements about sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty are pure pro-government PR.
In reality the government plays a minimal role in achieving the food security so applauded by Dr. Theodor Friedrich.