336. CUBA: SUCKLING THE TIT OF INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE
For a lot of peak oilers, communist Cuba is the "poster boy" for post-peak agriculture. And I do mean "poster boy". The Community SolutionTM actually sells a $30.00 poster, described as: "A detailed presentation of Cuba's transition from an industrial, energy-intensive society to a low-energy, sustainable one. Great for classrooms and presentations at exhibitions."
They also sell a DVD film called "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil". Here's the blurb:
When Cuba lost access to Soviet oil in the early 1990s, the country faced an immediate crisis -- feeding the population -- and an ongoing challenge: how to create a new low-energy society. This film tells the story of the Cuban people's hardship, ingenuity, and triumpth over sudden adversity -- through cooperation, conservation, and community.Of course, we all know that Richard Heinberg loves the Cuba model, and has even proposed implementing it in the U.S. In a piece called 50 Million Farmers, he tells the inspirational story of how Cuba saved itself by returning to low-tech agriculture:
"Everyone concerned about Peak Oil should see this film." Richard Heinberg
Early on, it was realized that more farmers were needed, and that this would require education. All of the nation's colleges and universities quickly added courses on agronomy. At the same time, wages for farmers were raised to be at parity with those for engineers and doctors. Many people moved from the cities to the country; in some cases there were incentives, in others the move was forced.Now, you can imagine my surprise when I'm reading the news today on Google, and run across this little nugget:
The result was survival. The average Cuban lost 20 pounds of body weight, but in the long run the overall health of the nation's people actually improved as a consequence. Today, Cuba has a stable, slowly growing economy. There are few if any luxuries, but everyone has enough to eat. Having seen the benefit of smaller-scale organic production, Cuba's leaders have decided that even if they find another source of cheap oil, they will maintain a commitment to their new, decentralized, low-energy methods.
Cuba expected to turn over new leaf in farmingCuba has been on the U.S. tit for years, as attested by this vintage news item from 2004:
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 21, 2008
MIAMI -- Without Fidel Castro as president, Cuba is more likely to launch reforms to boost food production, create oil industry jobs and put more pesos in citizens' pockets, analysts said Wednesday.
Some changes, probably starting with efforts to help farmers, are likely to occur during the next year, some analysts said.
With food production pitifully low for a country with fertile land and a year-round growing climate, farmers need more land and more autonomy in tilling it to boost output. Cuba imports at least 70% of its food, including a record $437-million worth from the United States last year.Source
Cash purchases of US food have grown exponentially since November 2001, when hurricane-ravaged Cuba began taking advantage of the first breach of a trade embargo imposed in 1960 and maintained through 10 successive US presidencies. Cuban purchases from what is now its biggest food supplier, already nearing the $300-million mark by the end of July, are set to exceed $440 million this year, Alvarez said in an interview.So... all this time, Heinberg & Co have been talking up the amazing benefits of relocalized Cuban agriculture. And all this time, Cuba has been suckling on the tit of industrial agriculture -- to the tune of 70% OF ITS FOOD SUPPLY. Geez... talk about being asleep at the switch.
A couple of further notes...
The Community SolutionTM's blurb about Cuba "A detailed presentation of Cuba's transition from an industrial, energy-intensive society to a low-energy, sustainable one" is complete bollocks. Cuba didn't transition to a low-energy, sustainable society, and it didn't lose 50% of its oil, as shown by the EIA chart of Cuba's oil consumption below. In 2006, Cuba is using just as much oil as it ever did:
Cuba did suffer a 20% drop in oil consumption with the collapse of the USSR, but that oil was not the decisive factor in Cuba's implosion. So Cuba is a very poor model of peak oil. The primary reasons for Cuba's troubles were: a) the implosion of the USSR and its trading block, and b) Cuba's communist economy. This passage from an Oxfam America report(pdf) gives a clearer picture:
The breakup of socialism first in Eastern Europe in 1989 and then in the Soviet Union in 1990 created a major crisis in Cuba known as the "special period." Cuba lost 80% of its export market and its imports fell by 80% -- from $8 billion to $1.7 billion -- practically overnight.As you can see, Cuba's crisis was not caused by a shortage of oil, but by a shortage of everything.
The country went into shock as employment, production, and standards of living went into a tailspin. In the cities, buses stopped running, generators stopped producing electricity, factories became as silent as graveyards. Obtaining enough food for the day became the primary activity for many, if not most, Cubans. At the Cuban Communist Party's fouth Congress, President Castro painfully listed the commitments unfulfilled by Cuba's former allies:
"As of September 30 , we had received none of the rice, 50% of the split peas, 16% of the vegetable oil, 7% of the lard, 11% of the condensed milk, 47% of the butter, 18% of the canned meat, 22% of the powdered milk, 11% of the fresh and canned fish, 16% of the fertilizers, none of the sulphur..."