Monday, August 07, 2006

Cuba now, Cuba later...

As a Francisco-Franco-type watch (apologies to all of you too young to remember Franco jokes on SNL) has been put into place for Fidel Castro, all sorts of speculation has emerged about post-castro Cuba. Some even are wondering about Cuban agriculture.

In first world countries the average caloric cost for food production, taking into account all the energy needed to produce everything required to produce the food and get it to market, is 12 calories in for every calorie out. Cuba no longer had that much energy available to dedicate to agriculture and was forced to find “new” ways of growing the food they desperately needed. In doing so they reversed the caloric equation and got 12 calories out for each calorie put in.

How did they do this you might ask? Well I didn’t put new in quotations marks above for nothing. Mostly they went back to older, organic, sustainable methods of farming with some new twists. Methods the campesinos had used for centuries.

  • Plowing fields with oxen instead of tractors. Added benefit, oxen don’t compact the sopil the way multi-ton tractors do which leads to better soil preservation and higher yields due to better aeration.
  • forgoing monoculture and growing a wide variety of crops on each farm, and rotating those crops.
  • Using natural biological pest controls. Bugs that eat bugs and chemical extracts from plants like garlic and tobacco for spraying. Plants, such as sunflowers, that attract beneficial insects, and others, such as marigiolds, that repel insects.
  • composting all organic material and returning the compost to the land to build up soil
  • growing plants that are native to the climate and getting the farmers involved in selecting the best seeds and trading them amongst themselves.
  • privatizing, in the form of employee owned co-operatives, farms and allowing the employees to sell the produce that exceeds their government imposed quotas (yes capitalism is rearing its head in Cuba)
  • Bringing agriculture into the cities by converting vacant lots and other open spaces into urban gardens

That’s what I can remember from the documentary. Peak oil is either upon us or soon will be. Global agriculture in developed countries will take a big hit in the near future. The ability to affordably grow and transport food will be severely impaired, economies will completely collapse and chaos will reign. Millions will die of starvation if no alternative sources of food appear. This is not in the far future it is in the easly forseeable future, a matter of two or three decades. Global warming will add to this problem. [More]

Good luck with that. (I don't bring this up as endorsement, just information.) What is with this fascination with old-timey farming? Like anybody really wants to be behind a horse for 12 hours a day - they just want me to be behind it!

While some farmers see Cuba as a promising market, one key will be opening our sugar market to the one product they have a natural advantage for. What grain farmers often forget is Cuba has no money. None. Zero. Zilch. And one reason is our unnatural alliance with the sugar industry.
Another potential beneficiary, van Batenburg said, is Imperial Sugar Co. (IPSU) . If the embargo is lifted, the U.S. may decide to import Cuban sugar, which could benefit U.S. sugar refiners, as the new supply could lower raw sugar costs. [More]
Lobbying for the US government to "loan" (heh-heh) Cuba funds will be the first instinct. Oh-that's a good idea -
Cuba's precarious economic position is complicated by the high price it must pay for foreign financing. The Cuban Government defaulted on most of its international debt in 1986 and does not have access to credit from international financial institutions like the World Bank, which means Havana must rely heavily on short-term loans to finance imports, chiefly food and fuel. Because of its poor credit rating, an $11 billion hard currency debt, and the risks associated with Cuban investment, interest rates have reportedly been as high as 22%. [More]
Look, if you really want to help Cuba after Castro, open up the US sugar market.

Plus we'll get WTO Bonus Points.

Update: Great insights into the future of our sugar program from Da Man - Jim Weisemeyer (gotta join ProFarmer for full access). His bottom line:
The biggest challenge ahead for U.S. sugar growers will be dealing with Tier-2 sugar from Mexico and when the duty ends on Jan. 1, 2008. U.S. farm policy tools to control supply are dwarfed by the events ahead when Mexico has duty-free access to the U.S. sugar market. [My emphasis]

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