UNDP-EU support to farmers helps Cuba depend less on imports

Transfer of land to farmers in Province of Granma in Cuba led to the use of 1.4 million acres for cattle farming. UNDP-EU partnership has supported these farmers with training, equipment etc. Photo: UNDP Cuba, Maruchi Alonso

In Cuba, food security is an enormous challenge. Low agricultural productivity makes the country highly dependent on imported food. In 2009, the country imported about 80 percent of its domestic food requirements. This dependency makes Cuba very vulnerable to increases in international food prices.  Cuban agriculture also suffers from the consequences of national disasters, such as hurricanes, which lead to loss of crops.

With the help of the UNDP-EU supported PALMA:

  • More than 13.200 new farmers (14% women) and 366 cooperatives (6% of total) in different parts of Cuba have received agricultural equipment and inputs.
  • The beneficiaries have also been trained sustainable agriculture and business and cooperative management, which has empowered the farmers and helped them to increase their production.
  • The cooperatives have been able to increase their production levels of basic food products – such as milk, grains (rice and beans), fruits and tubers – with from 25% to up to 80%.
  • In 2011 alone, this increased food production substituted food imports for more than USD 15 million.

This unsustainable situation has prompted the Cuban government to define a strategy for self-sufficiency on food, and to make it a national priority. At the core of Cuba’s new approach is the transfer of decision-making to the municipal level, and shifting key roles in food production to cooperatives and individual producers. As part of this strategy the government also started to distribute unused land to farmers for food production.

"PALMA" helps modernize agriculture

Yudiel Mojena Guerra, a young farmer from Eastern Cuba, is one of the new farmers who got access to land for farming:

"When I first came here, this land was invaded with marabu. I slowly and manually removed it and bought a few animals to start a small milk production. Since I got this land my main goal has been production, especially on my cattle farm, using what I had to improve my production, little by little," he says.

To support farmers like Yudiel Mojena Guerra, and to contribute to Cuba’s ambition to be able to rely on domestic production of food, UNDP and EU work in close partnership with the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture.

Through the UNDP-EU programme PALMA (Programa de Apoyo Local a la Modernización del sector Agropecuario en Cuba) the partnership has, since its start in 2009, supported the modernization of local agriculture in 37 pilot municipalities in Cuba. PALMA has provided seeds, fertilizers, farming tools and machines to farmers and cooperatives, and trained them on modern and sustainable farming, including training on issues such as running a cooperative; and finance and accounting.

 PALMA provides farmers with modern equipment.

Yudiel Mojena Guerra is only one of the 13,200 farmers that have so far been supported by the PALMA programme. With this support, he has been able to increase his production.

“Now I have 100 cows, and I have introduced goats and some horses”, he says.

For Yudiel, training and capacity building provided with the support of UNDP and EU has meant that not only has he been able to increase the production of his farm, he has in his turn been able to help others.

“This is now a school-farm where I share my knowledge with other people starting in this business. The knowledge about financial management and about running a cooperative that I have acquired means I can run my farm more efficiently, taking the best decisions. I have also become more active and alert in my cooperative, which has a lot of benefits for both me and my associates”, says Yudiel Mojena Guerra.

Empowering farmers

Agricultural cooperatives across the pilot municipalities are witnessing how the support of PALMA is empowering the farmers and increasing food production. Isidro Jesus Ligona from the western province of Pinar del Río and president of the cooperative CCC Abel Santamaria with 219 members - large producers of rice, beef and milk - can see a positive impact since the start of the project:

“This project has been extremely important for a cooperative of our size. The project has not only granted us material support, but also social support and training. The project has had a positive impact in terms of development and results as compared to the initial situation in which we were in 2008”, says Isidro Jesus Ligona.

Sara Jacas Espinosa, who is the president of the CCS Guillermo Gonzalez Polanco cooperative, stresses the importance of the training and capacity building part of the programme:

“Skills development constitutes a fundamental aspect. We have received training on several issues, including gender, environment and functioning of cooperatives. This has led to a big jump in terms of cattle production and farming”, she says.

Bottom-up approach

PALMA relies on the bottom-up methodology established by UNDP’s "Programme for Local Human Development", which has operated in Cuba for more than ten years. This has made a big difference for the success of the programme.

“For the first time we have a project that is bottom-up, taking into account the criteria of the producer – who really is the one who knows what you need in the rural areas, if you want to increase the output of crop- and cattle farming. That is what this country badly needs for it to be able to substitute for food imports”, says Osmany Castro Luna, a farmer in the province of Sancti Spiritus.

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