Cuba’s communist government is calling on its citizens to produce more of their own food in whatever spaces they can find, including backyards and balconies, in an effort to combat the country’s looming food crisis.
“Cuba can and must develop its program of municipal self-sustainability definitively and with urgency, in the face of the obsessive and tightened U.S. blockade of the food crisis COVID-19 will leave,” deputy leader of the Cuban Communist Party José Ramón Machado Ventura was quoted as saying by the state-run media, Reuters reported last month.
According to Reuters, nearly two-thirds of the food consumed on the island is imported at a cost of roughly $2 billion annually. Key farming supplies like fertilizer, machinery and animal feed are among the imported goods on which Cuba’s citizens rely.
A recent decrease in aid from Venezuela following their own economic collapse and President Donald Trump’s tightened trade embargo have severely reduced Cuban imports. The reduction in aid and tightened embargo led to the first shortages of imported food and decreases in national agricultural production.
Last year, the communist government even “urged farmers to use oxen instead of tractors” to help tackle fuel scarcity.
The governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic has only added fuel to the flames by “paralyzing” the key tourism sector. Food security is at the top of Cuba’s national agenda as businesses and public spaces sit empty due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
“Today we Cubans have two big worries: COVID-19 and food. Both kill,” said Yanet Montes, a Cuban citizen who Reuters reported was leaving a popular Havana agricultural market with just a few mangoes. “We are flooded with scarcity.”
As markets increasingly experience dwindling supply, Montes said waiting in long lines for basic produce items is common, with some lines starting as early as dawn for the most sought-after items.
In east Havana, resident Luis Ledesma asked his wife is he could use her flower beds to plant pumpkin, sweet potato, cassava, cucumber and chives, Reuters reported.
“One of the things that is difficult to find these days is rice,” said the 61-year-old, who recently attained five chickens and a cockerel. “But root vegetables can replace rice.”
According to Reuters, some observers are hopeful that the crisis in Cuba will propel the communist government to “reform its agricultural model which, like the rest of the economy, remains heavily centralized.”
“Nothing good can come from the combination of monopoly of supplies, monopoly of distribution and distorted prices,” said Cuban economist Pedro Monreal.