The struggle to recover soil fertility
- Submitted by: admin
- Science and Technology
- 10 / 15 / 2006
By Raisa Pages
When Columbus landed in Cuba he was amazed by the immense mahogany trees, gigantic cedars, other hardwoods and tall pines. He promptly wrote the Spanish crown offering the wood for boat building.
However, it wasnt only the Spanish colonizers that deforested Cuba. The worst came afterwards, starting in 1900, when the US companies and local hacienda owners began to cut down forests for their sugar plantations and cattle ranches.
Since 1953, when the Cuban rebels attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, Fidel Castro had denounced the indiscriminate deforestation in his program noting that reforestation would be a task of the future.
Only 13 percent of the island was forested when the revolution triumphed in 1959.
Widespread deforestation had accelerated erosion and the loss of top soil throughout much of Cuba, predecessor of the current desertification of the land in much of the national territory.
IMPACT ON PRODUCTION
Back in the 1980s, Cuba had an unlimited supply of chemical fertilizers to make up for the mineral deficiencies in the soil, but the arrival of what is known as the Special Period (after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the European Socialist Bloc) led to an abrupt drop in those supplies.
Between 1998 and 2002 the total area of Cuba under cultivation, including sugar cane, averaged 2.5 million hectares per year and only 25 to 30 percent received chemical fertilizers.
Organic fertilizers and bio-fertilizers were applied to mitigate the loss in fertility. Farmers developed the use of compost and worm humus, pointed out Dr. Abilio Cardenas, director of the National Soil Institute.
In 1999, the area receiving organic fertilizers reached 296,500 hectares and by last year had climbed to over 2.4 million hectares. Worm humus, an excellent fertilizer, has been widely expanded.
Although many farmers practice simple soil conservation techniques, others fall into the shortsighted vision of not repairing the damage caused by the bad agricultural practices. Planting on the contour and establishing live plant barriers and good drainage are actions that dont require much investment, said Cardenas.
The Soil Institute provides a soil analysis indicating the mineral deficiencies and excesses of each piece of land and the correct dose of chemical fertilizers when available, said the soil expert.
There are some who think using organic fertilizers resolves all of their problems. However, some times the depleted land requires a chemical fertilizer to make up for a sharp mineral deficiency that hasnt been replaced.
There are many problems that can affect soil fertility and today there is more awareness about them. The Ministry of Agriculture offers financing for all efforts to upgrade soil fertility.
The success of Cuban agriculture and its farmers depends on the nations top soil.