Recent visits to community projects in Cuba included horseback treks to mountain homesteads and caserios, where Native families farm in remote areas of the dense eastern Cuban forest. I traveled with colleague Larry McDermott, Plenty Canada executive director and long-time partner in Indigenous international sustainable development.
Freddy Martinez Ramirez has a farm a bit over two hours up the mountain on a horse trail that fords sixteen passes of the serpentine Jojó River. The farms are carved out of patches of more-or-less level land, which yield fields of corn and beans, yuca, pineapple, and other crops. This is farming by the old Taino “coa,” or planting stick, these days also called, “planting by machete.” Baracoa friends dropped us at Veguitas, where Freddy awaited with saddled horses.
This visit in the Oriente easternmost mountains came toward the end of a journey that began in the capital of Havana, traveling east by car and bus, to project farms El Cotorro, a rural municipality of Havana, to Camagüey, and Guantanamo and Baracoa, and near the tip of Cuba at farthermost Cajobabo. We visited four farms out of some fifteen among Gran Familia communities linked in the agricultural network. These days, economic conditions call for substantial attention to food self-sufficiency throughout the country, and the Gran Familia farmers are intent on providing a resounding national model for their effort.
In Camagüey, Finca Yucahu, at the guajiro homestead farm of Ivan Cabrera, a large field is ready for planting with yuca. Young Ivan and his group and their council of elders are striving to produce on a variety of levels. Animal husbandry in pork, goat and cattle, fields of guayaba, aguacate, plantain, and vegetables are in full activity, while construction of thatched, bohio-style ranchones are built to protect animals.
Vladis and Idalis Ramirez, from La Rancheria and Panchito’s son and daughter leaders, who had joined the trip in Havana, helped in ceremony at Finca Yucahu, where all the work was prayed over for good timing and reliability of rains and sun (change in climate — rains — is impacting planting times), and for unity of purpose among Gran Familia homesteads. Vladis follows his father Panchito now as the head farmer at La Rancheria, where large fields of corn, beans and other crops are also the way of life. Older sister Almeida and several younger women run large kitchen gardens and her own kitchen is always full of activity. Brother Inoel, and next generation cousins, Yasmany and Pepino, are also persistent farmers in their fields and with their animal husbandry.
There are several other farms in the network, two more at Cajobabo, a large one coming along in the Tames municipality, two farms of brothers at the Yateras hamlet of Bernardo, and several more in two communities along the Toa River, near Baracoa. Following the cacique’s orientationthere is ample and deeply felt collaboration among these farming families. The strong need of thesmall farmers is for all manner of agricultural materials, instruments and tools, such as machetes, hoes, wire fencing, pumps, irrigation lines, small windmills, and such. The commitment is to self-sufficiency among the Gran Familia and food sovereignty for the country.
As the work and production in the various farms increasingly connect and mutual planning grows, the direction is in cross-country cooperative production of the traditional yuca (manioc) tuber, the central crop of Taino agriculture, which continues in very active, widespread practice among guajiro farmers. The crop, in its many varieties, is highly useful as human and animal food. Its refinement in value-added product is the traditional casabe tort, cooked by masters in “casaberia” ovens. The intent is to form a system of farms with their own casaberias and ovens and elaborating a growing volume of casabe, for the Cuban public and for tourism and external markets.
- Jose Barreiro