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"Cuban agriculture needs more efficient systems"
According to Fernando Funes-Monzote, a young doctoral candidate in the Netherlands who became a successful producer, "Cuban agriculture does not need to produce more food, as 50% of what is grown nowadays is lost before reaching consumers."
The figure is not new, as a development aid NGO had already revealed very similar numbers, but Funes manages it well and can contribute more, according to statements he has offered to the independent magazine El Toque.
"I obtained this data from an investigation based on calculations involving several municipalities of the country. Much of what is produced remains in the field because producers don't have an efficient collection system, there are failures in procurement, and a lack of effective storage mechanisms," he said.
"Additionally, transportation is chaotic and many times producers don't take care of the product's integrity. When the product reaches the consumer, it has lost quality and the harvest in general has suffered great decline," he added.
"Having the technology and resources to improve these systems would allow the sector to be more sustainable, efficient and productive. In our current conditions, the more producers produce, the higher their losses and expenses are," he said.
It is a dilemma that, according to the digital media, can be seen in the official press these days as farmers complain about the tons of fruit spoiling in the fields at the height of the mango harvest.
Funez-Monzote is working on the Finca Marta, a model of ecological and self-sustaining agriculture in the province of Artemisa.
His project covers about eight hectares where he produces exotic species of vegetables (arugula, endive, fennel, dill, cabbage, mustards and field mustards) that are traded without intermediaries. He also harvests 25 varieties of products weekly, and more than 60 on an annual scale.
This scientist put into practice his own theories in the field. Today he is the architect of a business that supplies dozens of restaurants, pays 10,000 pesos in taxes each month, sells honey bee, pollen and wax to the only state marketer of the product.
This man employs 17 people (6 women and 11 men) who work the land and hives, a number that will continue to grow.
"At least 60 to 70% of what we earn (beekeeping, vegetable sales and agrotourism) is reinvested in the workers' wages. For example, an employee who works from 7:30 am to 12 noon earns about 2,000 pesos a month. And the trend will keep increasing each semester. In addition, we pay their social security and a holiday day each month," Funes said.
"My first commitment is with employees, that they get benefits for their work and don't feel it is as a punishment. Even when we started and still did not generate profits, I paid them from my own pocket. I ended up in debt so that everyone would have the most fair payment possible. The people and their quality of life are the center of the project," he said.
Finca Marta also functions as an agro-ecological tourism destination. The person in charge of this part of the business is Claudia Alvarez, the wife of Funes.
Alvarez left her job at the Spanish hotel chain Melia and today she receives groups of tourists who are interested in visiting a diversified and ecological space. According to her statements, agro-tourism generates almost 40% of their income.
"We have a gastronomy license and, in addition to showing the space, we offer visitors lunch in the farm. In agro-tourism, for example, the potential is enormous and reverts to quality of life for people working in the countryside. If we want to attract people to cultivate the land, they have to receive benefits. It is not only about producing. We also need to reinvest in the system itself, preserving the environment and creating better conditions for those who live here."
Regarding the current regulations or price caps in the agricultural sector, Funes said that "the problem is not the regulation itself, but that it make sense and be based on a study or real analysis of the phenomenon."
"First let's think about why the products are scarce. Prices are only another component of the system. The challenge is to achieve sufficient dynamics in the productive, business, conservation, and transportation sectors. Without this chain of mechanisms, the agricultural sector does not work," he said.
"As long as the conditions and the technology do not improve, these shortages will be created cyclically. Putting a price cap on products is not the solution," he said.
Years ago, Fidel Castro himself praised Finca Marta, which started in 2011. The governor was interested in the project and even visited the place to meet with Funes, its manager.
Publication date: 7/14/2017
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