Agriculture in Cuba

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A sugarcane plantation in rural Cuba

Agriculture in Cuba has played an important part in the economy for several hundred years. Today, it contributes less than 10% to the gross domestic product (GDP), but it employs about 20% of the working population. About 30% of the country's land is used for crop cultivation.[1]

The inefficient agricultural industry in Cuba has led to the need to import large amounts of beef and lard.[citation needed][2] Cuba now imports about 70–80% of all the food its people consume[3] and 80–84% of the food it provides via the rations to the public.[2] The rationing program accounts for about a third of the food energy the average Cuban consumes.[4]


Cuba's agricultural history can be divided into five periods, reflecting Cuban history in general:

  • Precolonial (before 1492)
  • Spanish colonial (1492–1902)
  • The Cuban Republic (1902–1958)
  • Castro's Cuba, pre-Soviet bloc collapse (1959–1989)
  • Castro's Cuba, post-Soviet bloc collapse (1989–present)

During each of these periods, agriculture in Cuba has confronted unique obstacles and undergone numerous challenges.

Before the revolution 1959, the agricultural sector in Cuba was largely oriented towards and dominated by the US economy. After the communist government took over and nationalized the farmland, the Soviet Union supported the Cuban agriculture by paying premium prices for Cuba's main agricultural product, sugar, and by delivering fertilizers. Sugar was bought by the Soviets at more than five times the market price. 95% of its citrus crop was exported to the COMECON. On the other hand, the Soviets provided Cuba with 63% of its food imports and 90% of its petrol.[5]

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cuban agricultural sector faced a very difficult period. Cuba had to rely on sustainable methods for farming. Agricultural production fell by 54% between 1989 and 1994.[6] The Cuban government aimed to strengthen agricultural biodiversity by making a greater range of varieties of seed available to farmers.[7] In the 1990s, the government prioritized food production and put focus on small farmers.[5] Already in 1994, the government allowed farmers to sell their surplus product directly to the population. This was the first move to lift the state's monopoly on food distribution.[8] Due to the shortage in artificial fertilizers and pesticides, the Cuban agricultural sector largely turned organic,[9] with the Organopónicos playing a major role in this transition.

Today, there are several forms of agricultural production, including cooperatives such as UBPCs (Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa) and CPAs (Cooperativa de Producción Agropecuaria).

Some of this is described in the documentary The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.[10]

Urban agriculture

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Due to the shortage of the fuel, and so severe lack of transportation, a growing proportion of the agricultural production takes place in urban agriculture. In 2002, 35,000 acres (140 km2) of urban gardens produced 3.4 million metric tons of food. Current estimates are as high as 81,000 acres (330 km2).[11] In Havana, 90% of the city's fresh produce come from local urban farms and gardens. In 2003, more than 200,000 Cubans worked in the expanding urban agriculture sector.[12]



Unprocessed cassava root

Some 260,000 acres (1,100 km2) are planted with cassava.[13] The cassava originates from the Latin American and Caribbean region[14] and is grown in almost every country of the region. Cuba is the second largest producer of cassava in the Caribbean with a production of 300,000 t (2001).[15] However, the yield per hectare is the lowest of all Caribbean countries. Most of Cuba's production is used directly for fresh consumption.[16] Part of the cassava is processed to sorbitol in a plant near Florida, Central Cuba.[17]


Cuba is the world's third largest producer of grapefruit. Sixty percent of the citrus produce is oranges, 36% grapefruit.[6] Citrus production and processing was the first foreign investment in Cuba's agricultural sector, in 1991, the participation of an enterprise from Israel, the Jagüey Grande area, approximately 140 km (90 mi) east of Havana.[18] The products are mainly marketed in Europe under the brand name Cubanita.


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Consumption of potatoes in Cuba amounts to 25 kg (55 lb) per year. Potatoes are mainly consumed as French fries. Potato production areas (in total 37,000 acres or 150 square kilometres) are concentrated in the western part of Cuba. The main variety grown in Cuba is the Désirée.[19] Seed potatoes are partly produced locally. Some 40,000 metric tons of seed potatoes are imported annually from New Brunswick, Canada and the Netherlands.[20]


Rice is a staple in Cuban diet; one of the main dishes is rice and beans. Rice in Cuba is mostly grown along the western coast. There are two crops per year. Most rice farms are state-owned or co-operatives.[21] Production is limited by the shortage of water and, similar to other industries in Cuba, lack of fertilizer and modern agricultural technology. The yield per hectare remains lower than the average of Central American and Caribbean countries.[22] Therefore, Cuba has been a major importer of rice. Recently, imports approached 500,000 tonnes of milled rice per year.


Cuban sugar mill, ca. 1922.

Cuba was once the world's largest sugar exporter. Until the 1960s, the US received 33% of its sugar imports from Cuba. During the cold war, Cuba's sugar exports were bought with subsidies from the Soviet Union. After the collapse of this trade arrangement, coinciding with a collapse in sugar prices, two thirds of sugar mills in Cuba closed. 100 000 workers lost their jobs.[23] However, the sugar production in the cane sugar mills has fallen from approximately 8 million metric tons to 3.2 million metric tons in the 2015 period.[citation needed][clarification needed] A rise in sugar prices beginning in 2008, stimulated new interest in sugar. Production in 2012–2013 was estimated at 1.6–1.8 million tonnes. 400,000 tonnes is exported to China and 550,000–700,000 for domestic consumption.[24]


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Tobacco leaves in a drying shed

Cuba has the second largest area planted with tobacco of all countries worldwide.[25] Tobacco production in Cuba has remained about the same since the late 1990s. Cigars are a famous Cuban product worldwide and almost the whole production is exported.[26] The center of Cuban tobacco production is the Pinar del Río Province. Tobacco is the third largest source of hard currency for Cuba.[27] The income derived from the cigars is estimated at US$200 million.[28] The two main varieties grown in Cuba are Corojo and Criollo. 85% of the tobacco grown in Cuba is produced by National Association of Small Farmers members.[29] In the United States, Cuban cigars hold a special cachet, since they are banned as contraband in accordance with the United States embargo against Cuba. A number of shops catering to American tourists sell Cuban cigars in Canada.

Tropical fruits

Plantains and bananas account for 47% and 24% of the local production respectively. Both are only produced for domestic consumption.[30] Other tropical fruits produced in Cuba are mango, papaya, pineapple, avocado, guava, coconut, and anonaceae (custard apple family).

See also


  1. Britannica Online
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  5. 5.0 5.1 Cuba's agricultural revolution an example to the world - by Andrew Buncombe
  6. 6.0 6.1
  7. - Cuba Agriculture History
  8. The New York Times, January 10, 1995 - Cuba's Agriculture Shows Improvements
  9. A Different Kind of Green Revolution in Cuba by Hal Hamilton
  10. The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
  11. Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  12. Cuban Ministry of Agriculture
  13. Cuba´s Non-Sugar Agriculture
  15. Foodmarket Exchange
  16. FAO Corporate Document Repository
  17. EVD - The Netherlands
  19. World Potato Atlas
  20. Cuba works toward seed potato deal with North Dakota in: The Bismarck
  21. FAO Corporate Document Repository
  22. FAO Corporate Document Repository
  23. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  25. Cuba, Encyclopedia of the Nations
  26. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  27. Cubanet
  28. CNN: The color and complexity of Cuba’s cigars April 9, 2007
  29. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  30. USDA 2004

External links