Cuba returns to use of oxen on farms
Cuba may soon rely more heavily than ever on oxen to save fuel
normally used by heavy machinery.
Diosdado Mena works his oxen in a field in Los Palacios, Cuba.
In China it's the year of the ox? and it could be for Cuba, too.
President Raul Castro is promoting the beasts of burden as a way for
the economically strapped communist country to ramp up food production
while conserving energy.
He recently suggested expanding a pilot program that gives private
farmers fallow government land to cultivate ? but without the use of
"For this program we should forget about tractors and fuel, even if
we had enough. The idea is to work basically with oxen," Castro told
parliament Aug. 1. "An increasing number of growers have been doing
exactly this with excellent results."
Cuba's economy was devastated by three hurricanes last summer, and
the global recession has left the government short on cash to cover
debts. As a result, it has slashed spending and cut domestic production
and foreign imports, causing shortages of such basics as cooking oil,
ground beef and toilet paper. Though the island gets nearly 100,000 free
barrels of oil a day from Venezuela, it also has begun a campaign to
The agricultural ministry in late June proposed increasing the use of
oxen to save fuel, as Cubans have seen a summer of factories closing and
air-conditioners being shut off at government offices and businesses to
The ministry said it had more than 265,000 oxen "capable of matching,
and in some cases overtaking, machines in labour load and planting." In
the farming initiative that began last year, about 82,000 applicants
have received more than 1.7 million acres so far or 40 percent of the
government's formerly idle land.
The program seems to have slightly increased production of potatoes
and tomatoes in season, but the government has provided no official
Shortages in Cuba are not new. And neither are oxen.
Thousands of Cuban farmers have relied on the beasts in the half
century since Fidel and Raul Castro and their rebels toppled the
dictator Fulgencio Batista.
"The ox means so much to us. Without oxen, farming is not farming,"
said Omar Andalio, 37, as he carefully coaxed a pair of government-owned
beasts through a sugar-cane field last week.