manufacturing plants go, the planned factory for farm tractors is a
rather modest affair, just like the tractors themselves, but the
Alabama company that will build the plant in Cuba is hoping that the
small, versatile tractor is just what is needed to enhance the island
nation’s food production.
LLC of Paint Rock, Alabama, has received permission from the U.S.
Commerce Department and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office
of Foreign Assets to build a factory near Havana to produce the small
Oggun tractor, designed specifically for the small private farms and
urban farms that have proliferated, since the collapse of the Soviet
Union at Christmastime in 1991.
U.S.S.R. had been the major trading partner of Cuba, since the
revolution of 1959.
Soviets had provided Cuba with consumer goods, machinery, machine
parts and tools, probably most importantly, it provided them with oil
and petroleum products. That included diesel and gasoline for farm
tractors, many of which were large machines imported from. Soviet
bloc countries. Those tractors were designed for collective farms
(much like U.S. corporate “farms”) and were not really
suitable for farms of a few acres. Most of the consumer goods came
from other countries and more than half of the calories eaten by
Cubans came from other countries.
been cut off from its primary energy supply, the Cuban government
wasted no time in finding another source of farm power. They
had their farmers start training more oxen and they quickly
transferred dependence on oil to dependence on cattle power. As
well, they began a massive program to produce food by the organic
method and the country was well positioned to do so, having 11
percent of the scientists and researchers in Latin America, even
though it has only 2 percent of the population.
dependence on the Soviet bloc began to wane in the late 1980s, a time
of uncertainty for both. When the collapse came, Cuba was forced to
go from an industrialized form of food production, similar to Florida
or California or the wheat and Corn Belt in the U.S., to organic
production, which is done without chemical fertilizers, herbicides,
or pesticides, almost overnight. It took several years to get the
new method in operation throughout the country, but they did it and
the response of the people was overwhelmingly positive.
addition to the greatly improved quality of the food in the market
places, the farms were being privatized and small farms were
springing up, many of them in the populated areas, making local and
wholesome foods available to most Cubans. The transition to the use
of organic farming and oxen brought great derision from many in the
so-called developed countries, particularly in the U.S. and more
particularly in the conservative and Right Wing newspapers and
magazines. But it worked and is working.
same papers and magazines and commentators gloated over the
difficulties of Cuba at that time, making light of the plan to return
to animal power, saying that it was a backslide to pre-industrial
times and was a sign of failure. As it turned out, Cuba’s
organic experiment became a model for other countries, which were
attempting to achieve food sovereignty, a term first used by Via
Campesina, a global peasants’ organization,
which in 1996, asserted that the people who produce, distribute, and
consume food should control the mechanisms and policies of food
production and distribution. It is part of an effort to
short-circuit the transnational corporations that have begun to rule
the food system around the world.
1993, the state controlled 80 percent of the farmland, but most of
the Cuban state farmland was broken up at that time into small,
private farms. The farmers could not own the land, but could rent it
at no cost, for as long as they wanted it and as long as they
produced. Whatever they produced above the quota for their key crops
set by the state, they could sell on the open market and keep the
profits. It was a sharp departure for the Communist Party-controlled
food production system, but it was necessary for everyone to grow as
much food as possible, since they were in a food crisis.
some places, the caloric intake dropped by half what it was before
the collapse of the U.S.S.R., but after a few years, they regained
their full caloric food intake per capita. At the time of collapse
the caloric intake was about 3,000 calories per day. The calorie
intake dropped to between 1,400 and 2,400 calories. Between 1991 and
1995, the caloric intake increased back to pre-collapse levels. One
of the results was that the obesity rate dropped and the incidence of
Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease fell dramatically.
United Nations’ Environment Programme noted: “Havanans
transformed their vacant lots and backyards into small farms and
grazing areas for animals. This resulted in 350,000 new well-paying
jobs (out of a total workforce of 5 million), 4 million tons of
fruits and vegetables produced annually in Havana (up tenfold in a
decade) and a city of 2.2 million agriculturally self-sufficient
And, the UNEP noted about the transition to organic growing:
“Moreover, the lack of
pesticides for agricultural production is likely to have a positive
long-term impact on Cubans’ well being since such chemicals are
often associated with various negative health implications such as
certain forms of cancer.”
is speculation from many observers that the organic movement in Cuba
has been just a stopgap effort to provide food for the nation, until
the resumption of conventional (the use of chemical fertilizer,
herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides) agriculture. While there may
be a move in that direction in the future, the positive aspects of
organic agriculture likely will continue in much of the country,
regardless of the pressure of global agribusiness corporations, which
are bound to be present in Cuba as the nation opens up to the rest of
the international community.
then, small farmers, urban and rural, will need small, mechanized
equipment, such as the Alabama company, Cleber’s, Oggun
tractor, specially designed for the Cuban market. It has yet to be
mass-produced, but the company will invest between $5 million and
$10 million to build the factory for the tractor which will sell for
between $8,000 and $10,000. It is designed to be easy to maintain
and repair, either in a home shop or in the field.
company, in a statement, said: “We
designed our machines with Cuban farmers in mind, to supplement the
organopónic farming practices already in use on many Cuban
farms. For more than 30 years Cubans have adopted organopónic
farming methods, producing some of the most sought after, healthy and
natural produce today. We’ve designed the Oggun tractor to aid
Cuban farmers who want to continue organopónic farming methods
but with increased production.”
co-owners Cuban-born Saul Berenthal and Horace Clemmons reportedly
plan to self-finance their factory and are certain that their tractor
will be a hit with Cuban farmers. There are elements in the U.S.
government that think that this small operation has all of the
earmarks of a successful venture, as well, since they are giving
permission to the first American company to start operations in Cuba,
since the 1959 revolution.
Obama’s opening to Cuba is a small step, with the relaxation of
some kinds of visitors to the island, but the tractor factory is a
sign that relations might be opened further if Cleber does well.
After nearly six decades of having the U.S. boot on its neck, with
worldwide sanctions and embargoes and propaganda, Cuba is emerging
from a long night of isolation, and appears ready to take its place
among the nations of the Western Hemisphere