HAVANA (Reuters) – In the courtyard of a temple belonging to the Abakua Afro-Cuban religious brotherhood in Havana, Nelson Piloto is pulling up the lawn to plant bell peppers and cassava in the face of Cuba’s looming food crisis.
Piloto, 40, says he is responding to the Communist government’s call for citizens to produce more of their own food, including in big cities, in whatever spaces they can find, from backyards to balconies.
Standing across from two giant ceiba trees that are considered sacred by many in Cuba, the temple usually resounds with ceremonies involving drumming, animal sacrifices and dance. But it sits empty now due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions on gatherings.
“I’m making the most of the earth,” said Piloto, leaning on his hoe.
Food security has lately risen to the top of the national agenda in Cuba, with countless news headlines and televised roundtable discussions dedicated to the topic.
“Cuba can and must develop its program of municipal self-sustainability definitively and with urgency, in the face of the obsessive and tightened U.S. blockade and the food crisis COVID-19 will leave,” José Ramón Machado Ventura, 89, deputy leader of the Cuban Communist Party, was quoted as saying by state-run media on Monday.
The Caribbean island imports roughly two-thirds of the food it consumes at a cost of around $2 billion annually, in addition to key farming supplies like fertilizer, machinery and animal feed.
But imports have nosedived in recent years as aid from ally Venezuela shrank following its economic implosion and U.S. President Donald Trump tightened the half century-old U.S. trade embargo.
That led first to shortages of imported food and then to drops in national agricultural production. Output of Cuban staples like rice, tomatoes and pork fell 18%, 13% and 8% respectively last year, according to data released
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