Cuba's sustainable agriculture at risk after opening to U.S.
Part of the production is shifting away from feeding local and regional markets, and increasingly focusing on feeding tourists and producing organic tropical products for export, writes Miguel Altieri Professor of Agroecology, University of California, Berkeley.
President Obama hopes to open the door for U.S. businesses to sell goods to Cuba. In Havana last Monday during Obama's visit, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed an agreement with his Cuban counterpart, Agriculture Minister Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, to promote sharing of ideas and research.
“U.S. producers are eager to help meet Cuba's need for healthy, safe, nutritious food,” Vilsack said. The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, which was launched in 2014 to lobby for an end to the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo, includes more than 100 agricultural companies and trade groups.
Analysts estimate that U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba could reach $1.2 billion if remaining regulations are relaxed and trade barriers are lifted, a market that U.S. agribusiness wants to capture.
When agribusinesses invest in developing countries, they seek economies of scale. This encourages concentration of land in the hands of a few corporations and standardization of small-scale production systems.
In turn, these changes force small farmers off of their lands and lead to the abandonment of local crops and traditional farming ways. The expansion of transgenic crops and agrofuels in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia since the 1990s are examples of this process.
If U.S. industrial agriculture expands into Cuba, there is a risk that it could destroy the complex social network of agroecological small farms that more than 300,000 campesinos have built up over the past several decades through farmer-to-farmer horizontal exchanges of knowledge.
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