During the economic crisis of the 90s in Cuba, Yank Benavente's stepfather pedaled long distances to look for food. While the island is suffering from the effects of the pandemic, Yank is growing vegetables on his roof.
An 38-year-old artist, he has been out of work since the country closed its doors to tourists. March.
But he now has lettuces, chard, cucumbers and tomatoes above his house in the Vedado district of Havana.
While Cuba is suffering from the economic crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, city dwellers are creating urban gardens to grow their own food and survive these difficult times If urban agriculture is fashionable, in Europe in particular, in Cuba it is a necessity while a second Special Period – named after the crisis of the 90s due to the collapse of the USSR – is looming.
“The idea of growing vegetables in the city comes from the problems of the country and the world, related to the economy and coronavirus, “says Yank, who made planters from old French gutters “Guichard Frères” recovered from a house being demolished.
It thus responds to the call of the Communist government, which encourages the inhabitants to grow their food in anticipation of harder times.
“Nos reserves, our potential, lie in our capacity to produce ourselves “, assures the Minister of Economy Alejandro Gil.
– Insufficient agriculture –
Admittedly, the coronavirus pandemic worsened the situation on the island, deprived of tourism currencies which enabled it to pay for its imports.
But, as economist Pedro Monreal points out on Twitter, “the reasons for the crisis (food, editor's note) existed before the pandemic”.  Main problem: Cuban agriculture covers only 20% of the needs of the population, forcing them to import the rest, at a cost of $ 2 billion last year.
An economic study of a embassy paints a somber portrait e: “Cuba is today among the Latin American countries with the lowest yields in terms of agricultural production”, with losses of almost 57% of the food produced, during harvest and distribution, and more than 14 % of abandoned agricultural area. In 2019, under the effect of these structural problems but also of the climate, the production of vegetables decreased by 4.3% and that of fruits by 11.6% .
Yank remembers that in 1994, during the Special Period, the lack of food pushed his father-in-law to ride his bicycle to go to the countryside to get vegetables.
“If you can't find it quickly a solution, I think it will be worse than in 94 “, he fears.
-” The beauty of a lettuce “-
Already, at that time, having a vegetable garden at home was
In Cuba, “urban agriculture was born during the Special Period, when the population needed alternatives to obtain food”, ra pp. Marcelo Resende, representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on the island.
“And in this context of difficult food production, the country emphasizes the urban agriculture to respond to it. ”
Yoandra Alvarez, 49, started farming there in the 1990s. On the outskirts of Havana, she took over an abandoned piece of land, where the
Considered as a local reference, she is delighted to see this revival of urban agriculture: ” It's very interesting. People are starting to see the beauty of a lettuce, “she smiles.
Without chemical fertilizers, almost impossible to import because of the American embargo, the Cubans use natural techniques, but” it is necessary improve access to seeds, water, we are working on it, “says the representative of the FAO.
For Jesus Sanchez, a follower of permaculture and urban agriculture, there is no turning back: at he uses old tires and bottles as containers for his crops, while raising rabbits and chickens.
“No need to go out to find condiments, and we have pumpkin, cassava and sweet potato to eat, ”he says, happy to share with his neighbors. “When we pick mangoes, we give them to everyone!” »
mav / kal / ao
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