70 percent of Cuba’s farmland under threat

Havana, Nov 19 (EFE) Seventy percent of Cuba’s land under cultivation is being affected by erosion, salinity and acidity, agriculture ministry officials said.

The director of the Soil Institute, Dagoberto Rodriguez, said Wednesday at a press conference in Havana that only half of Cuba’s 6.6 million hectares (16.3 million acres) of arable land is under cultivation.

He said the cultivated land in Cuba is affected by problems like erosion, salinity and acidity, all of which contribute to the low fertility index.

The government since 2001 has been pushing a programme to conserve the soil, a key issue on the communist-ruled island since President Raul Castro decided to give priority to the rejuvenation of agriculture and increase food production.

Raul Castro, who succeeded ailing older brother Fidel, has complained on several occasions that half of Cuba’s arable lands were not being utilised, and so in 2008 he decreed that idle lands would be turned over to individual farmers and cooperatives.

One of the basic approaches of his government has been “to look to the land more”, but amid the economic crisis on the island the state has to import more than 80 percent of the food consumed by Cuba’s 11.2 million people.

The programme to conserve the land so far has benefited about 600,000 hectares and the country also has been making efforts to increase the extent of its forests.

It is estimated that when the island was discovered by Europeans in 1492, 89 percent of its land area was covered in forests, but by 1900 that had dropped to 50 percent and by 1960 only 13 percent of Cuba’s land was still forested.

The director of the ministry’s forestry division, Carlos Diaz, said that the reforestation plan had resulted by 2007 in 25.3 percent of the country’s land area being forested, but he added that the commitment made by Cuba at the 1992 Rio climate summit was to get to the 29 percent level by 2015.

The degradation of the soil and the loss of woodlands are two of the main environmental problems the island is facing, along with the loss of biological diversity and the lack of water, experts say.