Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

The Little-Studied Success Story of Post-Crisis Food Security in Cuba: Does Lack of International Interest Signify Lack of Political Will?

Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

The Little-Studied Success Story of Post-Crisis Food Security in Cuba: Does Lack of International Interest Signify Lack of Political Will?

Article excerpt


In the early 1990s, industrialised Cuba was plunged into crisis as it lost its major source of food, fuel and agricultural input supplies with the demise of the Soviet bloc. Within a decade, the country had recovered sufficiently to double agricultural production, increase calorific availability by 25 per cent, and maintain a consistent and equitable social food programme. Given the continued shortfall of petroleum imports into the country, this was a major achievement, yet it is little studied or used as a learning example for other nations struggling with food insecurity. This article presents the results of a unique study into Cuban agriculture and its food system at the end of the 1990s, identifying the main mechanisms implemented by Cuba to regain its food security status. It argues that the lack of interest in the Cuban experience by the international community indicates that political bias may be causing us to ignore lessons that could contribute to achieving food security in other countries.

Keywords: food security, Cuba, organic, ecological, post crisis, petroleum


Food security and the petroleum-dependent food system

According to the FAO (2002), 'Achieving food security means ensuring that sufficient food is available, that supplies are relatively stable and that those in need of food can obtain it.' The 1996 World Food Summit set a goal of halving the number of undernourished people in the world by 2015, a goal that has been criticised by some as being an unacceptably low target over an unacceptably long period of time (Windfuhr 2001). It is now considered highly unlikely that even this goal will be met; 200 million people are classified as undernourished in Africa alone (Benson 2004). Food insecurity is not only a southern issue; according to FAO estimates, there are 815 million undernourished people, or one eighth of the world's population, of whom 777 million are in developing countries, 27 million in transitional countries and 11 million in industrialised countries (FAO 2001; Wiebe et al. 2001). As well as concerns over quantity, food quality issues are also critical but usually overlooked. UNICEF estimates that at any given moment, one third of the world population suffers from food-related ill health, such as primary nutrient deficiencies and corresponding illnesses (Baker 2001; WUR 2002).

To deliver food security is arguably the main goal of a nation's food system. In practice, however, such systems are increasingly charged with delivering economic growth, and encouraged to incorporate into the global food network which is largely run and maintained by the agri-food industry; an industry which, despite its power and influence, remains largely unaccountable in the food security debate (Goodman and Redclift1991; Wright 2005). Within the agricultural development sector, meanwhile, policy responses to the alleviation of food insecurity tend to target income increases through the liberalisation of markets and diversification out of farming, with the role of agricultural production itself being focused on productivity increases of higher-potential producers who are able to make use of intensive farming approaches (DFID 2004; USAID 2004). To date, these policy strategies have not delivered, not least because the most vulnerable are unable to access markets, whilst the industrialised food system geographically concentrates production and products. In addition, it has been argued that the focus on productive maximisation diverts attention, and funding, from other equally important contributions of agriculture to food security, such as of guaranteeing harvests, increasing environmental resilience to shocks and stresses, and ensuring local availability of a diverse range of nutritious food (Wright 2005). Nevertheless, policy makers are largely sceptical that small-scale, local subsistence initiatives using more ecological styles of agriculture,1 i.e. low-petroleum based systems, can play a mainstream role in addressing the problem of food insecurity (FAO 1998; IAC 2003; DFID 2005). …

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