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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

07.08.09 ::: Urban agriculture and food sovereignty in Cuba

Urban agriculture and food sovereignty in Cuba

The following is the text of a talk given by Jorge Soberon, Cuba’s Consul General in Toronto, Canada, to a meeting of food sovereignty sponsored by the Venezuela We Are With You Coalition (CVEC).

["Food sovereignty" is a term coined by members of Via Campesina in 1996 to refer to a policy framework advocated by a number of farmers, peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, rural youth and environmental organizations, namely the claimed "right" of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces. See additional information at the end of this article.]

Cuban Market

As a sovereign country, Cuba is working to develop its food industry and reduce dependence on food imports.

Cuba is working to ensure an adequate level of food to more than 11 million inhabitants. In Cuba no one is helpless or dying of hunger. There are special programs to ensure food for the most vulnerable segments of the population.

To achieve this goal, Cuba faces high world market prices and the growing negative effects of climate change and the policy of the United States.

Food imports from the United States continue to be affected by insecurity. They are subject to strict supervision and licensing for export and transportation of agricultural products to our country. Moreover, Cuba has no access to the technologies available in the United States or to credit from that country.

The Cuban government has identified food production as a major task and a matter of utmost national security. More than half of the agricultural land in Cuba is held by non-governmental organizations.

Due to the demise of the Soviet Union and the strengthening of the blockade of the United States during the 90s, Cuba faced an economic crisis that forced us to seek solutions to our national food production.

Thus the urban agriculture in Cuba, a country where 75% of its population lives in urban areas, but an important part comes from the countryside and has farming culture.

Urban agriculture is carried out throughout the country and is planned taking into account the number of inhabitants of each town or city. The organic matter that is used and the biological controls in place makes it possible to preserve the fertility of the soil. The available area is used to produce food in an intensive manner. Science and technology are applied, maintaining a supply of fresh products, all with the goal of obtaining a balanced production of agricultural products.

Urban agriculture is an important source of income, due to the demand of the popular market, the workplaces, and special places that exist to take care of vulnerable populations. The high educational level of the people facilitates the rapid assimilation of new techniques and technologies. Urban agriculture constitutes a major source of urban nutrition, contributes to the elimination of urban rubbish dumps and constitutes an important source of employment. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have jobs in urban agriculture. In Cuba, urban agriculture is supported by seed houses and agricultural centres of production of organic matter.

Foods obtained through urban agriculture constitute an important amount of the total consumed by the population in cities, in addition to other options like imported food or food guaranteed by the state.

The system of urban agriculture in Cuba produced more than 1.4 million tons of food in 2008, in more than nine thousand hectares located in all municipalities. In 10 years, vegetable production increased six times over.

Three factors have been crucial to their advancement: Training of the workforce. The system of payment to workers by the end results of labour. Systematic evaluation of the results.

Urban agriculture is one of the best alternatives for the restoration of food production after the passage of hurricanes, allowing the recovery of agricultural production in few months.

Among the recent steps taken to further develop agricultural production is the distribution of vacant land for its use, for those that can produce food. At present, Cuba is modernizing its food industry to increase the ability to process and preserve agricultural products.

The development of agriculture in Cuba receives strong support from the state. The actions taken contribute to food security and adequate nutrition. The goal is not only to produce food, but also to make it affordable and accessible to the population. The habit of consuming vegetables has grown and generates jobs and income, product prices are competitive and urban agriculture has improved hygiene and sanitation of the cities by developing agriculture in areas that are abandoned.

In addition, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA: Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela) is a tool for agricultural and rural development of nations of the region and aims to ensure access to fair and stable prices of basic foods through cooperation on food sovereignty and security.

Cuba will continue to work and cooperate with other countries to ensure the solution of dietary and nutritional needs for all its people, protecting and enhancing thereby the living standards of the Cuban people and other peoples and promoting national initiatives to ensure our sovereignty and independence in food production and distribution.

[Thanks for this to Suzanne Weiss of CVEC.]

Via Campesina’s seven principles of food sovereignty include:

1. Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right.
2. Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it.
3. Protecting Natural Resources. Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals.
4. Reorganizing Food Trade. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
5. Ending the Globalization of Hunger. Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed.
6. Social Peace. Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.
7. Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decisionmaking on food and rural issues.

Food sovereignty is increasingly being promoted as an alternative framework to the narrower concept of food security, which mostly focuses on the technical problem of providing adequate nutrition. For instance, a food security agenda that simply provides surplus grain to hungry people would probably be strongly criticised by food sovereignty advocates as just another form of commodity dumping, facilitating corporate penetration of foreign markets, undermining local food production, and possibly leading to irreversible biotech contamination of indigenous crops with patented varieties. U.S. taxpayer subsidized exports of Bt corn to Mexico since the passage of NAFTA is a case in point.

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