Cuban farmers fight land degradation through sustainable management – Cuba

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By Luis Brizuela

HAVANA, May 23 2022 (IPS) – Thorny bushes and barren soil made it look like a bad bet, but Cuban farmer José Antonio Sosa ignored others’ objections to the land and brought this land to life. which is now the thriving La Villa farm on the outskirts of Havana.

“The land was a mess, covered with sweet acacia (Vachellia farnesiana) and sickle bush (Dichrostachys cinerea), with little vegetation and lots of stones. People asked me how I was going to do it. With an ax and a machete, I gradually cleared the undergrowth, in sections,” Sosa told IPS.

Today, there are plots of different varieties of fruit trees, vegetables and tubers on the 14 hectares that this farmer received from the state in usufruct in 2010, as part of a government policy to reduce unproductive land and boost food production.

The crops feed his family, while contributing to social programs and sales to the community, after part of the produce is delivered to the Juan Oramas Credit and Service Cooperative, to which the farm located in the municipality of Guanabacoa, one of the 15 municipalities of the Cuban capital, belongs.

At the farm, where he works with his family and an assistant, Sosa produces cow and goat milk, raises pigs and poultry, and dreams of raising freshwater fish in a small pond in the not too distant future. too distant.

The Villa is in the process of being certified as a “sustainably managed farm”. The farm and Sosa represent a growing effort by small Cuban farmers to reclaim degraded land and use environmentally friendly techniques.

The restoration of unproductive and/or degraded lands is also linked to the need to increase domestic food security, in a country heavily dependent on food imports, whose rising prices mean a domestic market with unmet needs and cycles of shortages. like the current one.

At the end of 2021, Cuba had 226,597 farms, of which 1,202 had agroecological status while 64% of the total – some 146,000 – were working towards obtaining agroecological certification, according to official statistics.

Sosa, known as “Che” since childhood, said the use of natural fertilizers and animal manure had made a difference in reclaiming and transforming the soil.

“It is also important to pay attention to how crops are grown or harvested, to avoid compaction,” the farmer said.

Studies show that changes in land use, inadequate agricultural practices (including intensive use of agricultural machinery and irrigation), increased human settlements and infrastructure, and the effects of climate change are factors that accelerate desertification and land degradation in this Caribbean island nation. of 11.2 million people.

Sosa stressed the importance of paying attention to the direction of the land for planting and the use of live or dead barriers “to prevent water from transporting topsoil to lower areas when it rains.”

Drought and climate change

In this archipelago of 109,884 square kilometers, 77% of the soils are classified as not very productive.

They are affected by one or more unfavorable factors such as erosion, salinity, acidity, poor drainage, low fertility and low organic matter content, or poor moisture retention.

The most recent statistics show that 35 percent of the soil in Cuba shows some degree of degradation.

But at 71, Sosa, who has worked in the countryside all his life, is in no doubt that climate change is hurting the soil.

“Rain cycles have changed,” Sosa said. “When I was young, in the early 1960s, my father planted taro (Colocasia esculenta, a tuber widely consumed locally) in March, around the 10th or so, and on the 15th it rained heavily. This is no longer the case. This month of April was very dry, especially at the end of the month, just like the beginning of May.

He also referred to declining crop yields and quality, “as soils become warmer and water becomes scarcer”.

Several studies have corroborated significant changes in the climate of Cuba in recent years, linked to the increase in the average annual temperature, the decrease in cloud cover and stronger droughts, among other phenomena.

According to forecasts, the country’s climate will tend towards less precipitation and longer periods without rain, and by 2100, the availability of water potential could be reduced by more than 35%.

But more intense hurricanes are also expected, atmospheric phenomena that can dump half of the average annual rainfall in 48 hours, resulting in stress and severe soil erosion.

Although the least productive land is located in the east and the so-called semi-desert of Cuba is limited to parts of the southern coast of Guantánamo, the easternmost of the 15 provinces, forecasts indicate that the semi-desert areas -arid could extend towards the west of the island.

Goals

In addition to being a State Party to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, since 2008, Cuba has been promoting the Country Partnership Program, also known as the National Action Program to Combat Desertification and Drought; Sustainable land management.

Likewise, the Cuban government is committed to Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)agreed within the United Nations in 2015.

In SDG 15which involves life on land, target 15.3 states that “by 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a world without land degradation”.

According to Sosa, the increase in soil degradation factors requires more efforts to restructure its physical and chemical characteristics.

In addition, he said, mechanisms should be sought to prioritize irrigation, taking into account that many springs dry up or shrink due to climate variability.

“In my case, I irrigate the lower part of the farm with a small system connected to the pond. But in the higher areas of the farm, I depend on rainfall,” he said.

The construction of reservoirs or basins to collect rainwater, in addition to traditional reservoirs, are ideal alternatives for this Caribbean country to short streams, with low flow and very dependent on rainfall, which is more abundant during the rainy season from May to October.

But farmers like Sosa need more incentives: more training on the importance of sustainable management techniques, and on the economic returns, as well as financial and fiscal support, in order to generalize agroecological practices.

In 2019, Cuba approved the National Land Degradation Neutrality Target Setting Program.

“The directive provides for the implementation of new financial economic instruments or the improvement of existing instruments by 2030 in order to achieve neutrality in land degradation,” Jessica Fernández, head of the change department, told IPS. of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.

The plan is to strengthen the use of credits, insurance and taxes as economic incentives for farmers, based on soil improvement and conservation, and consider current expenditures for environmental solutions to determine total expenditure on soil conservation, the official added.

“We are in talks and studies with the Central Bank of Cuba to gradually introduce green banking,” Gloria Gómez, director of natural resources, priority ecosystems and climate change at the ministry, told IPS.

“This service will seek to promote and finance projects that provide solutions to environmental problems through loans with lower interest rates, longer repayment periods, incentives for green products and services or the ‘eco-labelling’, she said.

Since 2000, the Ministry of Agriculture has been developing the National Program for Soil Improvement and Conservation, and in January the Policy for Conservation, Improvement and Sustainable Management and Use of Fertilizers entered into force.

At the same time, the Cuban state’s plan to combat climate change, better known as Tarea Vida, in force since 2017, also includes actions aimed at mitigating soil vulnerabilities.

Over the past five years, the principles of sustainable land management (SLM) have been applied to more than 2525 hectares, while one million of the more than six million hectares of agricultural land in the country have benefited from certain type of benefits, according to statistics.

Other national priorities are related to increasing forest area to 33 percent, expanding areas under SLM by 150,000 hectares and improving agricultural land to 65 percent by the end of the current decade.


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