The announcement of Fidel Castro’s death has raised speculation about whether the process to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba will continue. Actions taken by the Obama administration in the last year had made this process seem almost irreversible, but the recent election may have changed things. It’s too early to know.
Fourteen months ago, I spoke with Dr. Pedro Sanchez of Columbia University’s Earth Institute about the Cuban food system. A native of Cuba, Sanchez has first-hand knowledge about the issues facing Cuba on the food and agricultural front. He told me this:
“Cuba is currently importing about 80% of its food at a cost of about $2B annually. This represents about 3% of the nation’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product). That’s a very high percentage. At the same time, Cuba has anywhere from 500,000 to one million hectares of prime quality land idled. These lands have excellent soils and are surrounded by good infrastructure, a fantastic opportunity. Cuba now has a program to transition those idle lands in the form of long-term leases to private farmers and farmer cooperatives. That’s in progress.
As I understand it, a top priority of the Cuban government is now food security. Certainly importing so much food is not secure and food scarcities are common.”
He also shared what he thinks Americans could learn from Cubans. Read the full Q&A here.
I realized a life-long dream to visit Cuba this past summer. The group I traveled with had an opportunity to learn about the food and health systems and higher education.
Cuba has a robust organic agriculture sector. It’s serving as a platform for agritourism and education efforts…and providing a space for capitalist enterprise. I wrote about my visit to Finca Ecológica, a farm/restaurant that offers insights into the Cuban food system. It’s part of a farm-to-table movement that is booming in Cuba and speaks to the growing trend for small business enterprises being encouraged by the Cuban government as the economy diversifies and land continues to shift into private ownership.You can read that Q&A here.
There’s a lot to learn – and unlearn – about Cuba. That was a key takeaway from my trip. One of the most interesting individuals that I met was Marc Frank, an American journalist who has lived in Cuba for more than two decades. Marc writes for Thomson Reuters and the Financial Times. He also is the author of two books, the most recent being Cuban Revelations: Behind the Scenes in Havana, which examines the impacts of U.S. policies toward Cuba…and considers what the future might hold. It’s a #mustread.
We hit it off and he was willing to be interviewed. I asked him a lot of questions about his diet. Marc told me this:
“…most of my food comes from farmers markets and state stores, some from who knows where, some from the grey market and some from friends.”
“When it comes to food, I would say that I eat more healthy than I did, and less.”
Read my Q&A with Marc here.
Have a great day.